Thursday, March 21

Everything done according to law

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Fatimah (right) with the family of one of the former detainees. — Photo by Muhammad Rais Sanusi

KUCHING: All the processes involved in bringing back all 40 Sarawakians, who were previously detained in Cambodia, have been done according to law.

In assuring this, Minister of Welfare, Community Well Being, Women, Family and Childhood Development Dato Sri Fatimah Abdullah stresses that the success of this mission proves that the Sarawak government is serious and committed when it comes to its citizens.

“This is a government that puts Sarawak first,” she told The Borneo Post via WhatsApp yesterday after arrival at Kuching International Airport (KIA) around 2.30pm, via a JC International Airline flight.

The chartered carrier had 49 people on board, including the Sarawakians, three Sabahans, Foreign Ministry’s Sarawak regional office director Deddy Faisal Ahmed Salleh, a reporter, and the parent of a former detainee.

Fatimah, who led the Sarawak government delegation to Cambodia, said Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg had repeatedly reminded the delegates that they must always observe the law in Cambodia throughout their time there.

“We did it through the proper channels and the good news finally came last Friday – the detainees would be released after being detained in the prison (in Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey Province) for more than two months,” she said.

Dato Sri Fatimah Abdullah

Elaborating on their trip to Siem Reap, Fatimah said she, Santubong MP Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar and other officials departed for Cambodia via Kuala Lumpur on Feb 14 at 6.45am.

It is known that Fatimah led the delegation on her capacity as the minister-in-charge of welfare, while Wan Junaidi was included based on his vast experience in foreign affairs.

Deddy Faisal was brought along, given his link with the Malaysian Embassy.

Upon arrival at Siem Reap International Airport several hours later, they were brought to Banteay Meanchey provincial prison, which is about a two-hour drive from the airport.

Fatimah said prior to arriving at the prison, they stopped by at the bungalows where the Malaysians were detained.

“We saw the two bungalows, with their windows heavily grilled, barbed wires and (each with) only one door – for both entry and exit, grilled and locked from outside. The security seemed very tight. If you actually followed the law, you could not have just one door.”

Fatimah said both bungalows looked alike; one was about 3.5km away from the other.

“One bungalow, we were told, housed 20 people, while another houses 30. We were not allowed to come in because both properties were under police investigation. They (bungalows) were locked and barricaded.”

They later arrived at the prison, where its general was kind enough to let them in, said Fatimah.

“It’s not easy to visit the prison unless prior permission was obtained, but the officials saw that we were government representatives, so they allowed us to see the detainees, and we were told no photograph should be taken.

“For the sake of some of the Muslim detainees, we also asked the prison’s director if they could have some halal food. They (prison personnel) did their best to make sure that our detainees were treated fairly.”

Fatimah said they also met Cambodia’s Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Oknha Datuk Dr Othsman Hassan, who was ‘very helpful’.

Fatimah, flanked by Wan Junaidi (seated, left) and Deddy Faisal, speaks to reporters during the press conference at KIA. — Photo by Muhammad Rais Sanusi

“He (Othsman) personally did all that he could to help – from the very beginning until we boarded the flight back to Kuching.

“With his network and assistance, even though it was Saturday and Sunday, everything was done very fast, especially the documentations.

“Dr Othsman was later directed by the Cambodian Prime Minister to personally go down to Banteay Meanchey Provincial Prison. Later, we were told that the government of Cambodian had agreed to release them (detained Malaysians) once the court order was done, as per the law,” she said.

Nevertheless, Fatimah also discovered that there were some problems regarding the travelling documents.

She said 30 Malaysians had passports but due to them having been in jail for over two months, they were considered to have ‘overstayed their stay’, according to Cambodian law.

“We had to prepare exit passes for them, but we received very good cooperation from the Immigration Attaché at the Malaysian Embassy in Phnom Penh.

“Some of the ex-detainees no long had their travel documents with them.  According to Cambodian law, we must pay an exit visa of US$30 per person – they’re all paid for,” she said.

Fatimah also took the opportunity during a press conference, held at KIA later yesterday, to thank many parties.

“First of all, our greatest gratitude to God for the smooth mission in bringing the ex-detainees back to Sarawak, and for us to have landed safely in Kuching.

“We would like to thank the Sarawak government for all the arrangements; the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his deputy prime ministers; Dr Othsman who is also in charge of special missions and Islamic affairs (in Cambodia); Cambodia’s Ministry of Justice and Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Cambodia’s Medical Department; the lawyers; the prison authorities; and NGO Antarabangsa chief Datuk Dr Mustapha Ahmad Marican.

“We would like to give our highest appreciation to our Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg, who granted us his permission to go to Cambodia; to the Malaysian Embassy in Cambodia, its Immigration Attaché; the Cambodian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur; to Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail for her concern; Bintulu

MP Dato Sri Tiong King Sing for (engaging with) his contacts on landing rights, especially regarding the airspace over Cambodia, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, which must get clearance for chartered flights; and our supporters in Sarawak.

“We all feel very encouraged,” said Fatimah.