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Tuesday, 4 July, 2000, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
Malaysian arms gang take hostages
Soldier on guard in Sauk
The gun battle took place in Sauk
Gunmen in northern Malaysia have taken two people hostage after stealing a large weapons cache from two army camps.

Hundreds of police and military have been sent to the area, where there were reports of a pre-dawn shoot-out between the security forces and the thieves.


Weapons haul
94 M-16 rifles
Two Steyr rifles
Five grenade launchers
Four heavy machine guns
Six light machine guns
Thousands of ammunition rounds

The hostages were abducted as they picked durian fruit in an orchard near Sauk in the western state of Perak.

Police closed in on the area as they searched for the arms theft gang, who stole more than 100 weapons from military camps on Sunday after posing as senior army officers.

The arms cache included assault rifles, grenade launchers and thousands of bullets.


Earlier reports said police and military forces had fought a 90-minute gun battle before dawn on Tuesday at the gang's hideout near the town of Sauk.

But the chief of police, Inspector General of Police Norian Mai, now says no exchange of fire took place between his forces and the gunmen.

Residents reported hearing gunfire, but Inspector Norian said he believed the thieves may have been familiarising themselves with their newly-acquired weapons.
Malaysian troops in Ipoh
Security has been stepped up following the raid

The Malaysian Government suspects the gunmen stole the weapons to sell them on the black market.

Defence experts estimate drugs-smugglers, pirates or guerrilla groups in neighbouring countries would be willing to pay up to $200,000 for the arsenal.

Disguised

Sunday's raid began when a gang of 15 men dressed in camouflage uniforms with senior rank badges descended on an isolated army outpost on Sunday.

They then moved on to an army camp at the town of Gerik, where they posed as an inspection team and pulled rank to get past sentries.

machine gun
The gang stole more than 100 weapons

They were seen driving off with their loot in three three Pajero Jeeps, painted to look like military vehicles.

The vehicles were later found near Sauk, about 60km (40 miles) from the army camps.

Police have cordoned off the area and are using a local school as a combined operations centre.

The scale of the crime is unusual in Malaysia, a largely peaceful country which, unlike some of its neighbours, does not face separatist rebellions or disgruntlement in military ranks.

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