Reuters International

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - A Malaysian court jailed nine Philippine militants for life on Tuesday for their involvement in a 2013 invasion of a Malaysian state on Borneo island, in a dispute stemming from 19th century British colonial rule.

The militants were found guilty of waging war against the Malaysian king during the February 2013 invasion of Sabah state that ended in bloody skirmishes with Malaysian forces after a month-long standoff.

The High Court in the state capital of Kota Kinabalu ruled that there were no grounds to justify the death penalty as there was no evidence the nine had been directly involved in the skirmishes, Malaysia's Bernama state news agency reported.

"The offence had badly affected the lives of the residents ... as well as the families of the deceased security personnel," the judge, Stephen Chung, told the court.

At least 27 people were killed as Malaysian troops backed by fighter jets stormed the camp set up by the Philippine fighters in the Lahad Datu district.

The key people behind the invasion have not been brought to justice, the news agency cited Chung as saying.

The fighters were from a group from the southern Philippines that has demanded recognition, and an increased payment from Malaysia, for their claim to be the rightful owners of Sabah, which an ancient sultanate leased to British colonialists in the 19th century.

Malaysia dismisses the demands.

The fighters declared loyalty to the self-proclaimed Sultan of Sulu Jamalul Kiram, in the Philippines.

(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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