KOTA KINABALU, Sept 26 — Eradicating the rampant kidnappings in Sabah is challenging because it has virtually become a profit-making enterprise involving locals, said Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun.
The state tourism, culture and environment minister today 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.
Masidi said the blatant and repeated intrusions into the state 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,” he said during his speech at a workshop on marine environment and security at University Malaysia Sabah today.
“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.
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 today 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.
Sabah has had 16 people kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf bandits this year, mostly seamen travelling in the east coast of the State.
Five Malaysian fishermen — Tayuddin Anjut, Mohd Ridzuan Ismail, Fandy Bakran, Mohd Zumadil Rahim and Abd Rahim Summas — were kidnapped near Dent Haven, Lahad Datu in July and are still in captivity.
Their captors are reportedly demanding RM8.5 million for their release.
Malaysia officially does not recognise ransom demands, but doubts were raised after the families of victims from a previous incident said they collected RM12 million to ransom the four Sarawakian sailors who were abducted on April 1.
Recently, Esscom also came under fire after a news documentary from an Indonesian media company saw Indonesians crossing the sea border by boatloads, paying between RM50 to RM100 to Malaysian security personnel to bypass the immigration process.