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KUALA LUMPUR, May 2 ― Tight border control is a key measure necessary to keep at bay imported cases of Covid-19 even as the government eases the movement control order (MCO) to allow the restart of economic activities on May 4.
The border control factor has been emphasised over and over again by Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, the director-general of health, at almost all his Covid-19 daily updates to the media since Malaysia came under the MCO on March 18.
Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Abdul Hamid Bador and Chief of Defence Forces Gen Tan Sri Affendi Buang have kept their word and beefed up security at the numerous border checkpoints.
The security personnel are also keeping a sharp lookout for anyone trying to sneak into the country through the numerous rat trails, illegal routes across forests and plantations that are also used for smuggling.
It is not an easy task policing the entire international border, about 3,000km on land alone, and a coastline of over 4,600km, that Malaysia shares with its neighbours, namely, Thailand, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam.
But the job has to be done. Reports from the ground indicate that the security personnel are leaving no stone unturned in their endeavour to ensure that all is under control at the border.
Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, in an address to the nation on May 1, said the tight border control is one of the six criteria that has been taken into account to implement the Conditional MCO to allow the restart of economic activities on May 4.
Kedah/Perlis Op Wawasan commanding officer Supt Abd Razak Md Din said the 18th Battalion General Operations Force (PGA) based in Pengkalan Hulu, Perak, has increased the number of personnel and stepped up patrols along the Malaysia-Thailand border in Perlis since taking up the task on April 1.
“More frequent patrols are carried out in the hot spots such as Wang Kelian, Kuala Sanglang, Padang Besar and Chuping, and particularly the rat trails which are favoured by illegal immigrants and smugglers,” he told Bernama.
He said the tight control has kept away illegal immigrants and that in April, only two illegal immigrants were arrested. However, he said, there was an increase in the smuggling of ketum leaves, with 8.4 tonnes worth RM472,000 seized in April.
Perlis Police chief Datuk Surina Saad said the police constantly conducted intelligence work to obtain information on the possible entry of illegal immigrants.
Kedah Immigration director Zuhair Jamaludin said only individuals who get through the screening conducted by the Ministry of Health can come to the Immigration counter.
He said the operations at the Immigration, Customs, Quarantine and Security (ICQS) Complex at Bukit Kayu Hitam, including at the Heavy Vehicles Complex and Light Vehicles Complex, are proceeding as usual even during Ramadan.
Stepped-up control measures at the Malaysia-Thailand border in Kelantan by the various security agencies have helped to check the illegal entry of people and reduce the smuggling of goods across the border.
ASP Mohd Rudzuan Ahmad, commanding officer of the Region 3 Marine Police Operations Force Base in Pengkalan Kubor, said the General Operations Force and Malaysia Border Security Agency (AKSEM) are cooperating well, more so after the MCO was imposed on March 18.
“From January to March this year, we foiled 90 cases of smuggling involving RM600,000 worth of goods but during the three phases of MCO (from March 18 to April 28) there were only 10 cases involving goods valued at RM112,630,” he told Bernama.
Patrols have been stepped up in Pengkalan Hulu, Perak, which shares the Malaysia-Thailand common border with Betong in the Yala province of southern Thailand.
Pengkalan Hulu District Police chief DSP Zulkepli Ibrahim said the security forces are maintaining a sharp lookout at the rat trails for illegal entry of foreigners and the smuggling of goods, especially in the Ops Pagar 3 area covering Felda Lepang Nenering, Ayer Panas.
Strict checks are conducted at the Immigration, Customs, Quarantine and Security (ICQS) Complex in Bukit Berapat, Pengkalan Hulu, he told Bernama.
The operating hours of the complex during the MCO are from 9.30am to 5.30pm, instead of the usual hours of 6 am to 11pm, he said, adding that a roadblock has also been set up at the complex.
Zulkepli said the border operations are carried out collectively by the Criminal Investigation Department, Narcotics Criminal Investigation Department and Pengkalan Hulu District Police headquarters with the Malaysia Border Control Agency (AKSEM).
In an effort to enforce the MCO effectively, the Marine Police in Sabah have put an action plan into operation that sees the establishment of 14 sea checkpoints to tighten border control against entry of illegal immigrants, smuggling, poaching by foreign fishermen, abductions for ransom and cross-border crime.
Region 4 Sabah Marine Police Force commander ACP Mohamad Pajeri Ali said 625 officers and personnel and 42 patrol boats have been deployed for the border control operation.
The Marine Police arrested 59 people in 48 cases for various offences, he told Bernama.
“The sea patrols enabled us to foil the smuggling of live crabs valued at over RM400,000 from Indonesia via Sungai Tawau Lama recently. Tawau was to have been the staging point for the crabs which are believed to have been destined for the overseas market,” he said.
Sarawak has approved an allocation to increase assets to beef up control at its border with Indonesia’s Kalimantan during the MCO.
Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg had not specified the amount nor the assets but had said that border control has to be stepped up.
“We are more concerned with the rat trails. So, we will step up the control at these places to prevent illegal entry of people into Sarawak,” he said.
Added focus will be given to Long Singut in the Kapit Division which has settlement closest to the Sarawak-Kalimantan border in the interior of the state, he said.
With the tight border control, the health authorities can rest assured that no one will sneak into Malaysia carrying the Covid-19 virus and start a new cluster in the country. ― Bernama