By Norshazlina Nor’azman
LAHAD DATU (Bernama) — Each time a kidnapping takes place in the east coast region of Sabah, the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom) becomes the butt of a lot of finger-pointing.
The series of abductions that have occurred there have somewhat smeared the image and credibility of the security forces, more so when the incidents created the impression of lax security in the coastal waters off Sabah.
The latest incident on May 14, in which four gunmen kidnapped two people at a seafood restaurant in Sandakan, was yet another reminder to ESSCom to be more vigilant and tighten border security and surveillance.
ESSCom shoulders the heavy responsibility of protecting the state’s sovereignty and security, particularly in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZone), against not only threats posed by abductors but also smugglers and intruders.
The security zone comprises 10 districts – Kudat, Kota Marudu, Pitas, Beluran, Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau – with the coastline stretching 1,733.7 kilometres.
UNFAIR TO BLAME ESSCOM
For ESSCom, taking care of ESSZone’s security is a challenging task, considering the area’s geography. Apart from its lengthy coastline, the security zone covers a land area of 31,158 sq km, including 362 islands.
Since its establishment in 2013, the security forces have been conducting endless operations to enhance security levels, especially at the various island resorts, according to ESSCom Operations Centre head Brig Gen Datuk Tuan Roslan Tuan Ismail.
He said the agency should not be entirely blamed for cross-border intrusions in view of the fact that the security forces were diligently working around the clock.
“When a kidnapping takes place, ESSCom is blamed. ‘How can they let it happen?’ ‘Why didn’t ESSCom do something?’ ‘Was ESSCom sleeping?’ And all kinds of other (accusations are levelled at us)…but the reality is we’re doing more than what we are capable of to keep this area safe.
“Kidnappings also occur in other states. Since ESSZone encompasses a wide area, it’s impossible for us to monitor each and every square inch of area simultaneously but we’re discharging our duties to the best of our ability,” he told reporters during a recent visit to the military camp in Kampung Tanduo, here, which was organised by the Information Department.
FIGHTING CROSS-BORDER CRIME
He said ESSCom’s biggest concern now was cross-border criminal activities like kidnapping and smuggling, against which the agency has launched an all-out war.
“While we admit it’s difficult to combat smuggling activities, we believe that if we’re able to wipe out smuggling, we will also be able to deter kidnappings and intrusions.
“This is because smuggling is said to be the one that ‘fuels’ kidnapping activities…criminals use their ill-gotten gains from smuggling to buy firearms and other equipment (which they use for kidnapping),” he said.
Tuan Roslan said ESSCom has taken various preventive measures to check security threats, including beefing up its security and defence assets, and increasing the frequency of its patrols and adding more members to its force.
He added that army battalions from Peninsular Malaysia were also being assigned to ESSZone on a three-month rotation basis to enhance security.
CONFIDENT INTRUSION WILL NOT RECUR
Tuan Roslan said based on intelligence information and more stringent controls in the security zone concerned, ESSCom was confident there would no recurrence of the bloodshed that occurred when Sulu gunmen intruded Kampung Tanduo, here, in February 2013.
Nevertheless, ESSCom would remain alert and be prepared for all eventualities and possible threats.
“To date, there have not been any suspicious movements following the last crisis and we’re confident such an intrusion won’t take place again.
“In the past, terrorists could intrude into those areas where security was lax…but now with the enforcement of ESSCom in ESSZone, they are incapable of making any intrusion,” he said.
He said ESSCom had yet to complete its mission to boost security in ESSZone although the zone was much safer now.
“The military camp in Kampung Tanduo, which was opened in March 2013, will remain here to ensure the safety of this village and the surrounding areas, and to keep criminal elements at bay,” he said.
OPERATIONS CONDUCTED DAILY
Tuan Roslan said operations to weed out ill