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Malaysian forces kill 31 Filipino gunmen

MANILA — Malaysian security forces killed 31 Filipino gunmen on the island of Borneo, officials said Thursday, and the government rejected calls by the United Nations for an end to the fighting.

At least 60 people, including eight Malaysian police officers, have been killed in the nearly monthlong conflict over an effort by followers of a Philippine-based sultan to assert a historic claim over parts of Borneo Island.

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‘‘The secretary-general is closely following the situation in Sabah, Malaysia,’’ said a statement from the United Nations released Wednesday. ‘‘He urges an end to the violence and encourages dialogue among all the parties for a peaceful resolution of the situation.’’

A spokesman for the Jamalul Kiram III, the leader of the group fighting in the Malaysian state of Sabah, said the sultanate was declaring a unilateral cease-fire in reaction to the call by the United Nations. He said an order was given for the group to take a ‘‘defensive position’’ and not to engage Malaysian troops.

The Malaysian defense minister, Ahmad Zahid, rejected the calls by the United Nations and the sultanate.

‘‘A unilateral cease-fire is not accepted by Malaysia unless the militants surrender unconditionally,’’ he said in a statement, adding later: ‘‘Don’t believe the cease-fire offer by Jamalul Kiram. In the interest of Sabahans and all Malaysians, wipe out all the militants first.’’

Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia told reporters Thursday afternoon that Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III had telephoned him after the UN statement to get his reaction.

“I informed President Aquino that they need to surrender unconditionally and their weapons have to be handed over to us,’’ he said during a visit to Lahad Datu, the area where much of the fighting has taken place.

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