By SALLEH SAID KERUAK
The kidnapping incident involving two women, including a Chinese tourist in Singamata Resort, Semporna late last Wednesday shocked the whole of Malaysia. Nobody expects a similar case to occurr again in a space of of six months after the Pom-Pom Island incident.
The incident shows the ongoing security threat in the east coast. Of course, the people of Sabah are very upset with the latest incident and vented their frustration largely to The Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM), a newly established agency under the Prime Minister's department, tasked to coordinate security forces — Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM), Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM), Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agencies (MMEA) — to ensure safety in the porous borders of Sabah, esspecially in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZONE).
As we all know, our Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced the establishment of ESSCOM on 1 April 2013, following the intrusion of Sulu terrorists in Tanduo, Lahad Datu. We should be thankful that there is no new intrusion of Sulu terrorists so far. In fact, ESSCOM or our security forces are now facing a tough challenge in curbing transnational crimes especially kidnappings.
ESSCOM is facing a unique situation in that it is not only struggling to ward off the threat of Sulu terrorist aggression but also grappling with threats from within. It seems that the alleged kidnappers are well aware of the ins and outs of the Semporna area, and they seem to know the presence of their target, especially foreign tourists in the resort. The incident could have been "an inside job".
This reminds me of the issue of the IC project that saw the influx of illegal immigrants in Sabah. Unlike in West coast, the issue illegal immigrants or IC project is quite rampant in Eastern Sabah. Rightly, community leaders particularly village chiefs or chairman of JKKKs should know the presence of new comers or illegal immigrants in their respective villages.
Realising this, the Federal government has formed the Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) specially to carry out investigations into the illegal immigrant problems in the state. The findings will be announced soon and we hope the government will to find a lasting solution. The presence of illegal immigrants, with unknown backgrounds, will further complicate the situation as far as security is concerned.
ESSCOM should not be blamed for every criminal acts in the area. Resort operators and owners should not hire or engage undocumented foreign worker, particularly from the Southern Philippines. For example, police have picked up and detained at least 15 undocumented foreign workers from Singamata resort soon after the kidnapping took place last Wednesday. Why can't they hire or recruit locals?
Based on newspaper reports, ESSCOM has issued numerous warnings to resort operators not to hire undocumented foreign workers. This particular resort I was told don't even have a dedicated security personnel on duty. In a nutshell, transnational crime on the east coast of Sabah, especially in Semporna requires the involvement of all parties and not just shouldered by ESSCOM or security forces alone. Security is everyone's responsibility.
We also do not know whether ESSCOM is given enough tools and personnel to do the job. Are they getting what they need. I am sure the leadership of ESSCOM will clear the air over many security issues in ESSZONE over the next few weeks. In relation to this, I believe ESSCOM and the State government should resolve the issue of water villages especially in Semporna, whether through relocation or upgrading with security consideration being the top deciding factor.