KOTA KINABALU: The security issues in Sabah are rather unique and complicated, said Chief Minister Datuk Seri Panglima Mohd Shafie Apdal.
He said several of the issues were related to national and foreign sovereignty due to Sabah’s location being in close proximity with Indonesia, Brunei and the Philippines.
Therefore, it would require the federal government’s involvement and intervention, he said after highlighting that Malaysia had allocated a total of RM5.9 billion to the security sector under Budget 2019, which covered defence, public order and enforcement.
Shafie stated this in his keynote address which was delivered by Sabah State Secretary Datuk Seri Hashim Paijan at the seminar on ‘Regional and Local Security Issues in Sabah: Identifying Core Problems and Prospects for Resolution’, which was held at the Marriott Hotel here, yesterday.
The seminar was organized by the Institute for Development Studies (Sabah) (IDS) and sponsored by The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS).
Shafie further explained that security issues were further complicated by the free movement of people between the said regions due to historical, cultural and family ties that went back many decades.
“Cross border movements for trade and economic activities are also common features in the east coast of Sabah where the population living in the remote villages on the islands in this region procure their food and daily supplies from the east coast towns of Sabah.
“Many of them also seek medical treatment and find employment in Sabah instead of their own countries,” he said.
Meanwhile, the terrorism and kidnapping at the east coast waters of the state have a similar issue due to nearly five decades of internal conflicts and civil war in the southern Sulu region of the Philippines.
He said the war had caused an influx of thousands of Filipinos from the Moro ancestry to seek refuge in Sabah. However they were regarded as illegal immigrants due to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees.
“The migration of large numbers of Filipinos into Sabah is still incessant, despite the peace agreement that had been signed between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberal Front (MNLF) in 1976 and again in 2014,” he said.
He also explained that the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) was established on August 21, 2002 following a series of kidnapping cases which started two decades ago but it was not enough.
“From 2000 to 2016, 20 kidnapping cases perpetrated by the Abu Sayyaf were recorded, involving a total of 33 Malaysians and 31 foreigners,” he said and added that the dark episode of intrusion by a group of terrorists from the Southern Philippines into Kampung Tanduo, Lahad Datu in 2013 had led to the establishment of ESSCom and ESSZone.
ESSCom is a civil military command, abbreviated as Eastern Sabah Security Command, while ESSZone is Eastern Sabah Security Zone which is the entire eastern portion of Sabah.
The cooperation between the civil components including ESSCom, Customs, Immigration, MMEA, Malaysian Armed Forces and the Police Department is enhanced through regular meetings to achieve the security goals, Shafie added.
Apart from that, he also touched on the importance of the media to provide responsible reporting, especially on incidences such as kidnappings and terrorism which could reflect the image of Sabah while sensational reporting as done by the international media often created a negative impression of Sabah as unsafe to outsiders, which is not true.
In hopes for a better solution to the security problems in Sabah, Shafie believes that a smart monitoring system, coupled with a super rapid response system, will be a more effective and cost saving alternative system to the traditional systems that had been deployed in the past decade in ESSCom, which has not much of a deterrent effect and extremely costly in terms of human resources and operational costs.
He also said the government required information and intelligence and constant monitoring and rapid response system, including the latest technologies on surveillance, where he gave an example of Singapore deploying pseudo satellites in the form of high-altitude balloons that have the capacity to monitor within 200 km of its shores.
“Only recently, the Minister of Defence had stated in Sandakan that ESSCom would be organized. There is also a proposal to relocate the Lok Kawi Army Camp and place MMEA in the east coast especially in Tawau, Sandakan, Semporna and Lahad Datu to boost the security of the east coast,” he said.
Also present during the event were the Institute for Development Studies (Sabah) chairman Tan Sri Simon Sipaun, representative of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Wolfgang Hruschka and relevant authorities and stakeholders who were in either uniforms or coats, sitting on seats with aligned table across the ballroom.