Friday, February 12, 2010

Security in Sabah: officials in denial? (Malaysiakini)

Conflicting reports, statements and counter-statements have blurred the security picture in Sabah in the wake of a kidnapping incident in Semporna waters on last Monday.

Earlier, the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur issued a travel alert warning valid until mid-April for the Sabah east coast.

Police describe the incident on Pulau Sebangkat as an “isolated” one involving a botched robbery attempt at a seaweed farm on payday for the 34 workers.

Both the supervisor and manager of the farm were spirited away, while no money was taken despite it being payday.

Pay dispute

No other details are being released on the incident. However initial theories included a pay dispute and an act of revenge by former staff.

“We believe the suspects are still in the country. They have no way to escape as we are tightening our patrols and guarding all exit points,” said state commissioner of police Noor Rashid Ibrahim in a security update.

Noor also dismissed reports that the kidnapping was the work of the notorious Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines.

Situation 'under control'

Noor's statement has been partly echoed by the second naval region commander, first admiral Anuwi Hassan, who added that naval intelligence was working together with their counterparts in the Philippines.

They are also working with the Malaysian maritime enforcement agency, the marine operations force, general operations force and the police.

Anuwi dismissed the incident as the work of a small unorganised gang, and said the navy was on the alert for any militants from the southern Philippines crossing over into Sabah.

He believes the incident is more likely due to 'internal problems' within the seaweed firm.

Yet in the first police statement on the incident, it was stated that “locals could have played a role in the case” and implying the 'kidnappers' were not local.

This is at odds with the pay dispute theory bandied about by the authorities. It is not known if any ransom demands have been made since the incident.

Anuwi said, “The situation is under control and our boats are patrolling the area around the clock.”

The lack of radar equipment makes security surveillance in the area challenging. However, four radars are in the process of being commissioned for the east coast while another four would be installed before the year-end.

Mixed reactions from politicians

foreign minister anifah amanForeign Minister Anifah Aman (left) believes the incident was not the work of an organised group like the Abu Sayaff but he is in favour of the authorities intensifying surveillance in the area.

PKR's deputy state chief Christina Liew Chin Jin Hadhikusumo asked, “What can the rakyat (citizens) do when militants enter our waters to rob and kidnap our people?”

She queried the usefulness of the billion-ringgit naval base in Sepanggar and the commissioning of the first submarine in Sabah waters.

Similar statements have been issued by DAP, PAS and Sapp (Sabah Progressive Party). The common concern is on investment and tourism in the state.

State Minister for Tourism, Culture and Environment Masidi Manjun hopes that any tour cancellations being contemplated will not be due to the incident in Semporna.

Meanwhile, local media reports described the situation in Semporna as normal in the wake of the Mon incident.

Locals seem to be going about their business as usual. The reports also spoke of foreign tourists in the area showing no signs of cutting short their stay in Sabah.

news courtesy of Malaysiakini

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