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Saturday, April 16, 2016

Malaysia shuts down Philippine border due to Abu Sayyaf kidnappings

COTABATO CITY – The Malaysian state of Sabah has shut down its border with Tawi-Tawi province in southern Philippines following the spate of daring kidnappings by the jihadist group Abu Sayyaf inside its territory.

Philippine authorities have failed miserably to stop the cross-border kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf in the oil-rich state of Sabah with 4 Malaysians as its latest victims. The Abu Sayyaf also kidnapped 10 Indonesian sailors on March 26 off Tawi-Tawi, just several nautical miles from Sabah.

Just recently, two Filipino general were sacked for failing to stop the Abu Sayyaf kidnappings inside Sabah. The Abu Sayyaf had in the past beheaded a Malaysian hostage in southern Philippines and killed a maritime policeman in a raid on a popular resort in Sabah.

There was no immediate statement from the Philippine National Police in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) or the military’s Western Mindanao Command on the closure of the Sabah border. The Department of Foreign Affairs also did not release any statement about this.

But lawyer Laisa Alamia, ARMM Executive Secretary, has confirmed Malaysia’s closure of its border with Tawi-Tawi in protest to the Abu Sayyaf kidnappings. She said the shutting down of the border has affected the economic activities in Tawi-Tawi where traders buy their goods from Sabah and sell them back home.

“There is an underground economy that we call smuggling, but for the people there, it is regular barter trading. There are no taxes paid, they go to Sandakan in Sabah by boat and sold their goods there and the same time, buy products at the lowest prices,” Alamia said.

Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman said the decades-old barter trade activity in Sandakan and other east coastal towns was to be ceased immediately, according to the Jakarta post, which reported that this was among several measures agreed by the Cabinet during a meeting on April 6 – four days after a group of gunmen on a speedboat intercepted the tugboat MasFive 6 near Ligitan Island  off Semporna and abducted its crew Wong Hung Song, 44, Wong Teck Pang, 41, Wong Teck Chi, 39, and Johnny  Lau Jung Hien, 21 – all from Sarawak in Sabah.

It said other measures include the immediate halt of transhipment trade of petroleum and gas products in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone spanning 10 districts from Kudat to Tawau. Musa also imposed a maritime curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. in seven coastal districts – from Beluran to Tawau.

Musa also ordered security forces to seize any foreign motorized boats in Sabah waters. He said security forces would also give protection to merchant boats sailing in high-risk areas in Sabah, particularly near the Philippine border.

He also shelved a propose ferry services – to start in May – between Kudat in Sabah and Palawan province in the Philippines, adding, the strict measures reflected Sabah government’s resolve to rid the east coast of the menace posed by kidnap-for-ransom groups based in southern Philippines.

“The state government takes these kidnappings very seriously. The new measures to be taken will ensure this problem can be dealt with effectively,” Musa said.

“We are also studying in-depth prevention and rectification measures to deal with hijacking and kidnapping involving merchant ships in high-risk waters. The security forces are currently looking into how we can provide better security protection for ships in these waters. However its implementation requires cooperation from all ship owners to enable effective coordination,” he added.

Kuala Lumpur has in the past paid huge ransoms to the Abu Sayyaf in exchange for the safe release of its Malaysian hostages and this even goes back in 2000 when jihadists kidnapped 21 mostly European and Malaysian hostages from Sipadan resort, and up to last year to save the lives of its citizens.  (Mindanao Examiner)

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