An intense stand-off at Semporna with 'Sulu Sultanate' intruders ended tonight with a total of 12 dead, including six policemen, the country's top cop confirmed.

Inspector General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar said that the skirmish has now claimed another life of a policeman, on top of the five deaths reported earlier.

Ismail said the one more death was discovered when a body of a policeman was recovered following an operation which ended about 7pm.

All the bodies of the six dead policemen have been identified and will be sent to Hospital Semporna. The identities of the six dead policemen will be revealed to the public only after their family members have been informed.

Ismail added that police also discovered six other bodies whose identities could not be identified.

"We believe they are the bodies of the enemies," he said in a press conference in Lahad Datu, about 150km away from Semporna.

In the same operation, another 19 policemen, who were believed to be caught in an ambush last night, were rescued from the premises at Kampung Sri Jaya Siminul.

Yesterday (Saturday), a team of almost 60 policemen, acting on a lead about armed gunmen, was checking a premise in the water village of Kampung Si Jaya in Simunul.

However, the raiding team was instead ambushed and fired upon, resulting in a prolonged stand off in the area over narrow planked walkways with houses on stilts over sea.

Sources had said that the gunmen had used the water to their advantage and the policemen may have walked into a trap.

Tonight, Ismail denied that the operation was done to save policemen from a hostage situation.

This went contrary to reports from Filipino media earlier today. Quoting a leader with Sultan Sulu insurgents the reports claimed that four Malaysians were earlier held hostage in Semporna.

Ismail also dismissed a claim that one of the police officer killed was beheaded, saying that he was awaiting post mortem reports. "Don't believe in rumours," he urged.

The Semporna situation is one out of at least two other areas in Sabah where police and the army are facing off with intruders from Southern Philipines.

The death toll has now climbed to 26 since violence erupted on Friday in Lahad Datu. The other area police have cordoned off is at Kunak, where a group of intruders are believed to be surrounded.

The first gunbattle Friday claimed the lives of 12 gunmen loyal to the 74-year-old Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III.

This was part of the group of some 150 which had ‘invaded’ Lahad Datu on Feb 12 to stake a claim on Sabah.

Weeks of negiotations with Malaysian authorities, which had surrounded the intruders, broke down as the invaders were not keen on surrendering.