31 Filipino rebels killed in clash with Malaysian troops

Manila, Mar 7 (EFE).- At least 31 Filipinos belonging to the militia of the sultan of Jolo were killed Thursday in a clash with Malaysian government troops on the island of Borneo, authorities in Malaysia reported.

The director of Malaysia's National Police, Ismail Omar, told the media that there were no casualties among his country's soldiers.

The latest casualties bring the death toll to 63 rebels and eight Malaysian police officers since the confrontation began last weekend.

The Malaysian government on Thursday morning rejected the offer of a cease fire made by the sultan of Jolo, Jamalul Kiram III, who sent more than 180 armed followers to the Malaysian region to reassert his sovereignty over the portion of the long-defunct sultanate that is now under Malaysian control.

Malaysian security forces on Tuesday launched a ground and air offensive against the sultan's militia to dislodge them from the remote area on Borneo where they have been entrenched for about a month.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a halt to the violence and urged the parties to engage in dialogue to find a peaceful solution to the matter.

The sultanate of Jolo, established in the 15th century, ceded Sabah to the British North Borneo Company in 1878 and the territory was incorporated into a newly independent Malaysia in 1963, against the wishes of the then-sultan and the Philippine government.

Jolo, minus Sabah, was annexed by the Philippines in 1917.