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Malaysia says it killed invasion leader

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Malaysian forces say they killed a top commander of a Muslim armed group from the Philippines that invaded Sabah, a claim disputed by the clan as violence continued in the monthlong struggle over ownership of the commodities-rich state.

Haji Musa, a general from the Royal Army of the Sulu Sultanate, was killed Monday, said Hamza Taib, Sabah’s police chief, in a televised media briefing.

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Abraham Idjirani, a spokesman for Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram, said by phone that the general was ‘‘very much alive.’’

A Malaysian soldier and three insurgents were shot dead in a gunfight Tuesday morning, Defense Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said in a mobile text message, bringing the death toll to more than 60 people this month. Kiram’s followers invaded Sabah to assert a centuries-old ownership claim over the state.

The incursion has been a distraction for Prime Minister Najib Razak as he prepares for polls that will determine whether his National Front coalition can extend its 55-year grip on power. He will probably dissolve Parliament by the end of this month for elections after raising civil servants’ salaries, analysts including Ibrahim Suffian said.

‘‘Najib has gotten a boost through his handling of the insurgency,’’ Ibrahim, an analyst at the Merdeka Center for Opinion Research, said Tuesday in a phone interview. ‘‘It has increased patriotism in the country. At the same time, pay rises will help secure a traditional base of support among civil servants and their families.’’

The prime minister must dissolve Parliament by April 28, after which the Election Commission is required to hold a vote within 60 days.

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