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Malaysia standoff in Borneo spurs concern about broader repercussions

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Nickee Butlangan/AP

(Read caption) Filipino residents of the Malaysian state of Sabah arrive with their belongings at the port of Jolo, the capital of Sulu province in southern Philippines early Monday, March 4, 2013 after fleeing Lahad Datu district of Sabah.

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The death toll has risen to at least 31 people over the weekend following a standoff between Malaysian authorities and Filipino militants, who stormed the island of Borneo three weeks ago and refused to leave.

Observers fear the incident could have broader domestic repercussions in Malaysia and the Philippines

Yesterday Malaysian police said unidentified armed men attacked and killed at least six security officials in Malaysia's eastern state of Sabah, reports The Wall Street Journal. These deaths came just days after 14 people – two Malaysian and 12 Filipino – were killed in clashes between Malaysian security forces and the militants who claim to represent the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu.

In early February, more than 100 followers of the Sultan of Sulu reignited a centuries-old land dispute by traveling to Sabah and refusing to abandon claims to the territory, reports The Christian Science Monitor.

The sultanate, or the territory the sultan governed, existed from the late 15th century until the late 19th century, governing Muslims spanning parts of Sulu and northern Borneo. 

Though the sultanate is not recognized anymore internationally as a governing entity, Malaysia still pays a token "rental fee" to the heirs of the last sultan.

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