Malaysian authorities say they have arrested 79 people in Sabah state on the island of Borneo, in an intensified operation to remove members of a Philippine Muslim clan who took over a village in the resource-rich area last month.
Federal police chief Ismail Omar said one militant was shot dead Saturday, bringing the death toll to 61 in ongoing operations to flush out the intruders.
The group's leader, Jamalul Kiram the third, who says he is a sultan, called Thursday for a cease-fire by his armed followers after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon released a statement urging an end to the fighting and calling all parties to come together to talk. But Malaysia rejected the Kiram group's proposal to cease hostilities, saying they would accept only a complete surrender.
The centuries-old Sultanate of Sulu includes several islands in the southwestern Philippines and Sabah in eastern Malaysia. And the Kiram group, which is headed by one of several claimants to the Sultanate, has been receiving a nominal rental fee from the Malaysian government for Sabah since Malaysia became independent of British rule in 1963.
The family had been demanding talks with the government since early February to try to increase the fee.
Philippine presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda says the group's claim to Sabah is now being studied by the Philippine government. The last sultan recognized by the Philippine government was Mahakuttah A. Kiram, who reigned from 1974 to 1986.