Petaling Jaya (The Star/ANN) - Worried Filipinos are fleeing the east coast of Sabah as the operation to flush out remnants of the Sulu armed group continues.
Using whatever boats available to get past a tight blockade enforced by Malaysia and the Philippines, hordes of them have been arriving in Tawi-Tawi since last week.
Tawi-Tawi Governor Sadikul Sahali said some 600 people, mostly women and children of Suluk origin, had reached Bongoa, less then an hour from here, as of yesterday.
"We are providing temporary shelter and food until they return to their respective provinces," he said, adding that all those who arrived had no links to Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram, the leader of the armed intruders.
He said most of them told the authorities that they returned voluntarily as they were frightened of being caught in the crossfire over the ongoing operations against the Sulu gunmen.
"As Tausugs (identified as Suluks in Sabah) they fear reprisal, that is why they left," he said.
Sadikul also confirmed that the prices of essential goods, such as rice and sugar as well as diesel and petrol, had gone up by 50 per cent to 80 per cent.
Barter trading between the Tawi-Tawi chain of islands and Sabah has virtually ground to a halt and the province has to get its supplies from Zamboanga in southern Philippines.
Sadikul also said that the Philippine military and coastguards were maintaining their blockade and not allowing any Filipinos to leave for Sabah.
Meanwhile, Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib dismissed Philippine media reports that their citizens were mistreated by Malaysian authorities.
"I strongly deny that. They can say anything but the focus of our operation is only in the two areas of Kampung Tanduo and Kampung Tanjung Batu," he said.
Hamza denied another report that shots were fired at Filipinos who were leaving Sandakan.