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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Barter trade ban: "You take our people for ransom and now your people are suffering"

KOTA KINABALU - The suspension of barter trade between Sabah and the Southern Philippines by the State Government has caused a severe economic meltdown in the Southern Philippines with prices of goods skyrocketing as high as 200 per cent.

State Tourism, Culture and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Masidi Manjun said the three-month-old suspension, motivated by the need to protect the State's waters from further kidnappings by kidnap-for-ransom groups originating from the Southern Philippines, had proven more damaging to Filipinos than Sabahans.

"They need us more than we need them, it seems. Of course, we want Sabah to be safe but at the same time, you take our people for ransom and now your people are suffering in the Southern Philippines.

"Really, the ball is in their court. But at the same time, our government has vowed to do its utmost to make sure Sabah is safe from all these threats," he said.

The suspension, announced by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman on April 6, was part of several measures in the wake of the kidnapping of four Sarawakian sailors off Semporna. The four have since been released.

Among the reasons cited for the barter trade ban were concerns over the identities of individuals who came to Sabah on these barter trade ships, whether they are linked to the cross-border crimes.

Masidi also noted that the new President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte had vowed to "take care" of the terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, which recently beheaded two foreign hostages and kidnapped seven more, making it his top military priority.

The Malaysian Government through the Defence Ministry, he said, had always engaged with both the Filipino government and Indonesian government with regards to the safety of the borders between the countries.

"Of course we are willing to talk to solve this issue. However, if Duterte wants to talk about his claim over Sabah, that is a different issue. We will not tolerate that, nor will we even talk about it because talking about it will imply that he has a case for the claim, which he does not.

"But in terms of security, we will surely talk especially on how we can solve this problem once and for all."

Meanwhile, Masidi believed that foreigners have full confidence in the security of Sabah's east coast as proven by the continuous flow of foreign tourists, especially Chinese nationals, who flock to Sabah's east coast for holidays.

He said it is a strong endorsement given to the security enforcement agencies guarding the troubled Sabah waters.

"In any case, threats of kidnapping from Abu Sayyaf are not going to affect them because tourists are not primary targets actually, for the simple reason that security level in the east coast has improved by leaps and bounds," he said.

Masidi added that he believed security not necessarily tops the list of concerns for many tourists.

For example, he said, six of the top 15 most dangerous cities in the world are in Brazil, yet tourists still flock to the country.

Besides, he said, tourists' itineraries showed that they will not be brought into high-risk areas.

"We always assume that things are unsafe, but actually I don't think so. The tourists will be kept safe because police will be well-informed of their movements at all times," he said.

At any rate, said Masidi, as far as Abu Sayyaf (and other kidnap-for-ransom groups) are concerned, they do not look whether their victims are Chinese or Malaysians or any nationality as long as the victims could generate them money through ransom. - DE

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