Malaysia launches operation to end militant stand-off

Malaysian security forces launched an operation Tuesday to clear out armed Filipino intruders engaged in a deadly three-week stand-off, a government spokesman said.

"The operation to end the occupation began this morning," the spokesman told AFP.

A total of 27 people have been reported killed since the militants landed on February 12 in the state of Sabah on Borneo island by boat and claimed the state on behalf of the heir to a now-defunct Philippine Islamic sultanate.

The affair has been Malaysia's worst security crisis in years, underlining instability and lawlessness in the seas between the two countries and exposing lax Malaysian security along its coast.