KOTA KINABALU – The blatant and repeated intrusions into Sabah were not possible without inside cooperation, such as local villagers and weapon dealers who stand to profit from the illegal business.
“There is so many people involved, it is fast becoming a public-listed company,” Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said in his speech at a workshop on marine environment and security at University Malaysia Sabah Monday.
“To combat this, we ought to use the full force of the law on them,” he said, although adding that security forces have the burden of balancing aggressive and deadly response with human rights and diplomatic relations.
Masidi was quoted by the MalayMail Online as saying that eradicating the rampant kidnappings for ransom (KPR) in Sabah is challenging because it has virtually become a profit-making enterprise involving locals.
The state tourism, culture and environment minister asserted that the abductions were not solely the work of Filipino militants, alleging that locals were also abetting them for a part of the takings.
Suspected Filipino militants have ventured brazenly into Sabah this year for their kidnap-for-ransom activities, with six cases already reported in the first eight months alone.
The spike in incidents have resulted in the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), the body set up to combat foreign intrusion, coming under criticism for the apparent inefficacy.
Masidi warned that border control including Esscom must prepare for a surge in intrusions in the wake of the military onslaught in Southern Philippines on the Abu Sayyaf’s stronghold in the island of Jolo.
“Everyone knows they will flee here, that will mean double trouble for us. They are armed and dangerous and some of them may already be here.
“All this while, we are asking them to protect our borders, but these people manage to slip in. If they are living here, then Esscom will be rendered ineffective,” he said, adding that it was common knowledge that many people linked to the group were already living among the community.
Coastal villages in Sabah’s east coast are close to several Philippine islands, some only a 15 minute boat ride away. Kidnappers are said to be able to slip in and out via these villages especially at night, and make speedy escapes.
Many are also said to be transit points for smuggling activities as well as human trafficking activities.
“The enemy is already among us, so our law enforcement really need to be well trained to know how to differentiate the locals and foreigners with MyKads,” he said.
Regional talks between Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have been happening and the three countries have agreed to collaborate on maritime security.
But Masidi said the discussions have yet to result in anything concrete.
“We need to turn this into actual action to be effective and soon. The consequences are too high a risk. And unfortunately, it is a risk some have been taking,” said Masidi.