KOTA KINABALU: The increasing frequency of abduction cases by the kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf militant group in the Sulu Sea does not augur well for Sabah.
Foreign Minister Datuk Seri Anifah Aman said that although the abductions occurred in international waters, the incidents were causing a climate of fear among those intending to come to Sabah thus affecting the tourism industry here.
To this end, he said there is a need to find more concrete steps to improve security in the Sulu Sea.
The Kimanis member of parliament said this when met by the media after he broke fast with his constituents here on Saturday night.
He was asked if there is any move to accelerate the joint patrol involving Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines in the Sulu Sea as the abduction incidents were getting more frequent and the problem getting more serious.
“I just spoke on the phone with Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, who confirmed the abduction of seven Indonesian tugboat crewmen by Abu Sayyaf. This is not an isolated incident anymore, and it has raised much concern not only within this country but also Indonesia.
“So far as Foreign Ministers of Malaysia and Indonesia, we are urging the Philippines government to be accountable for the actions of their people and that they must step up their own patrols in their waters,” he stressed.
Anifah pointed out he has discussed the matter with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, and the government is finding ways and means to resolve the problem, adding: “but it cannot be done without the cooperation from the Philippines government.
“We accept that it is a very complex operation and we know that the Philippines army have been after these people for a very long time but they have not been successful at all. The question (now) is how can we work closely together to resolve it,” he said.
According to Anifah, he and his Indonesian counterpart, Retno, want to meet the incoming Philippines Foreign Secretary after the official takes oath of office.
“We can meet in Jakarta, Malaysia or Manila. We need to have this urgent meeting,” he said, adding that with Najib’s permission, he plans to meet incoming President Rodrigo Duterte soon after the latter’s inauguration on June 30.
He disclosed that in a meeting a month and a half ago in Yogyakarta, it was agreed that the three countries would coordinate patrols along their sea borders and exchange intelligence reports and other forms of assistance with one another.
“You know the Malaysian public is very restless about it. We have had enough. As Foreign Minister, I view this very very seriously, and something must be done (as) we cannot accept excuses any longer. We must be able to defend our own people.
“So steps must be taken, and I hope the discussion among the defence ministers will result in something that we can rely and depend on and eradicate the fear among our people,” he said, adding that it has never been the government’s policy to pay ransom because then the industry will become a business for these people.
On June 24, seven Indonesian tugboat crewmen were abducted in international waters in the Sulu Sea bordering Philippines and Indonesia. The incident was the latest in a series of abductions of sailors from merchant vessels operating in the Sulu Sea over the past two months.
On March 26, abductors linked to Abu Sayyaf grabbed 10 Indonesian sailors from the tugboat Brahman. Five days later, four Malaysian sailors were taken from MV Massive 6 near Sabah’s Pulau Ligitan.
Another four crewmen from an Indonesian owned tugboat were abducted on April 15.