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Make sure we learn from the Lahad Datu standoff

Posted on February 23, 2013, Saturday

TO BE honest, I’m still unsure of the exact number of Filipino intruders from Sulu who are now holed up in Kampung Tanduo near Lahad Datu, Sabah.

The conflicting reports of the number of gunmen are confusing and that is not helping our confidence at all.

Initially, it was reported to be a group of 100. Then it was said to be 100 to 300. In between, there was another report claiming the group to be 400-strong. What if there are 4,000 foreign gunmen on our shores? I shudder at the thought.

Now, do our authorities concerned know how many there are exactly? What is the difficulty in doing so? Don’t we have access to them now that they are on our shores?

Or is the situation that of what we fear the most – our security forces dare not even go near them and hence are unable to know their exact number.

How can we fight our enemy without knowing their strength? Are we not supposed to have high-tech surveillance aircraft and super-duper Scorpene submarines? Why can’t we even detect this group of invaders?

Our borders have been breached by a group of armed intruders. Are we sitting ducks on our own soil?

This ‘drama’ has been going on for about two weeks now (since Feb 9) and Malaysians have been fed conflicting reports of the situation. I am concerned that the authorities have no clear stand in dealing with the group of invaders, which our Home Minister has now claimed are neither militants nor terrorists.

Does it mean that the minister feels satisfied that these invaders who entered the country illegally do not pose a threat to the nation’s security?

He reported that they are malnourished and old and the Malaysian security forces have been tolerant to prevent bloodshed.

I suppose that’s acceptable on humanitarian grounds. But the larger issue is that of our national sovereignty.

These are armed intruders from another country. Their claims, though not new, are still preposterous. They are in Sabah to renew their claim over North Borneo. And they claim to be from the Royal Army of the Sulu sultanate.

If anything is worth a laugh over this incident, it has to be the claim from a Sabah businessman that he is the rightful sultan of North Borneo. A national daily quoted him as denouncing the claim from the Sulu sultan to the territory of North Borneo, the former name of Sabah. And he also produced a ‘calling card’ to stake his claim.

Aha, I have lost count of the number of people claiming to be the sultan of Sabah or king of Borneo. In this case, we can say that even history can contradict itself and its records.

Seriously, it does not matter whether these gunmen are old and malnourished or that their number is small. Any intrusion on our soil should be taken as a threat to our national sovereignty.

In this context, former Kuala Lumpur top cop Mat Zain Ibrahim said it best.

“Armed intrusion into the country must be confronted without hesitation, regardless of the nationality of the people involved.

“The intruders must be told in no uncertain terms that they are now in our territory and must observe and conform to the laws of our country.

“Whatever is discussed must be on our terms, not theirs. We talk, they listen and not the other way round.

“They must be made to put down their arms and surrender, and face the full weight of our laws. If they refuse to obey, the security forces must apply their rules of engagement. It is not that we want to see bloodshed, but this is how our sovereignty should be preserved and defended,” Mat Zain stressed.

It takes a policeman or a soldier to say it in that no-nonsense way. The police officer’s declaration was made with great loyalty, passion and courage.

You intrude into my land, you do not dictate terms. We set the conditions, you listen. Indeed that’s the way it should be. But why isn’t it going that way?

I can concur with former Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Yong Teck Lee’s statement that the lack of firm action by the authorities to end the incursion may encourage ‘copy cat intrusions’ in future.

This is a blatant challenge to Malaysian sovereignty, and in the longer term, the government, the armed forces, the police and other security agencies will lose moral and political authority over our own people, Yong had said.

I think the most important lesson Malaysia must learn from the standoff in Lahad Datu is the weakness of our border defence.

Yong Teck Lee rightly questioned why the Malaysian armed forces and police which have the capability to repel the armed intruders had not been aware of the invaders’ presence until the group had set up camp.

The breaching of our Sabah borders by Sulu armed intruders is a frighteningly clear message: the state is not well protected and any armed group can walk in and wreak havoc.

There is nothing much the people can do in the face of such a large, aggressive force. The genuine citizens of Sabah depend on the state apparatus for protection, but it appears that even the security personnel were taken by surprise by the brazen act of the Sulu intruders.

Like many Malaysians, I’m very concerned with speculation that the Lahad Datu standoff would be used an excuse by a desperate government to declare emergency for fear of losing the coming elections.

I do not believe in such talk and I hope the people will stop rumour-mongering on the incident.

It is heartening to note though that at last Philippines President Benigno Aquino has advised the Sulu gunmen to give up peacefully.

“Going there with arms is not the way to resolve this. When you brandish arms naturally the other side has only one way to respond to such a challenge,’’ Aquino was quoted as saying in his first public comment on the incident late Thursday.

Aquino also stated that his government had been talking to all parties, including the Sultan’s family, to find a peaceful solution.

Now that the Philippines President is directly involved, we hope that the matter will be resolved expeditiously.

More importantly for Malaysia, the lesson to be learnt has to be over the exposure of her weak national defence.

An invasion of our shores should no longer be taken for granted. It is real and it is frightening as events over the past two weeks have shown.

Comments can reach the writer via columnists@theborneopost.com.

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