By Haslin Gaffor
LAHAD DATU, Feb 10 (Bernama) — Almost one year ago, Kampung Tanjung Batu and Kampung Tanjung Labian were reduced to a ‘ghost town’ status when 500 residents were forced to flee to other villages, including Kampung Cenderawasih.
It was in the wake of the bloody Sulu terrorist intrusion in Tanduo, which left the two fishing villages reveberating in a state of fear and panic.
The once-peaceful villages became a battleground between Malaysia’s security forces and Sulu terrorists from southern Philippines, which saw much of their properties destroyed, including houses which were either damaged or set ablaze.
The trauma and bitterness of life as “temporary refugees”, which the residents underwent for several weeks at evacuation centres in a nearby ‘safe’ settlement served as ‘eye-opener’ to the importance of safeguarding and nurturing peace and harmony.
Although the residents from Tanjung Batu and Tanjung Labian were permitted to return home by the end of March last year, they were still concerned for their personal safety.
Since then, the situation has improved by leaps and bounds, thanks to the government’s move to fully mobilise the security forces, including the police and armed forces, to defend Tanduo and surrounding villages such as Tanjung Batu and Tanjung Labian from falling into the belly of terrorism.
In addition, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak announced the establishment of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCom), which coordinates the operation of the various defence and security agencies in defending the country’s sovereignty and safety of the Sabah people.
Two armed forces batallions in Labian Zone and Felda Sabah are currently placed under ESSCom’s surveillance, led by its director-general, Datuk Mohammad Mentek.
“What’s important is, we now can live peacefully and at ease, without worrying about the level of security, as well as continue our daily activities as usual,” said villager Eddie Abdul, 45, whose house was torched during the intrusion in Tanjung Batu.
He expressed gratitude to the government for replacing his house with one under the People’s Housing Programme (PPR), which enabled him, wife and three children, to live comfortably.
“I am very happy to own a new house. Since returning to the village after the intrusion ended, my family and I were forced to squat at my younger brother’s house at the same village,” he told Bernama.
Many other villagers who suffered similar fate also had their damaged houses repaired while those destroyed by fire were replaced with new ones.
Kampung Tanjung Batu/Kampung Tanjung Labian head, Mahmud Mallang said 103 houses at the two villages which were damaged during the intrusion had been repaired by the government.
He said the government allocated RM12,000 to repair each house, including 78 in Kampung Tanjung Batu and another 25 in Tanjung Labian, besides building 45 houses under the PPR for villagers whose homes were razed.
The villagers have moved into the PPR houses, including 25 in Kampung Tanjung Batu and another 20 in Kampung Tanjung Labian, after they were completed last December.
“We are thankful to both the government and non-governmental organisations which helped us during the intrusion and subsequently, enabled us to return to our villages,” he said, adding that such aid helped ease their mind off the terrible incident.
During the intrusion, a group of 100 Sulu terrorists landed at the Kampung Tanduo beach on Feb 12, last year.
To resolve the intrusion through peaceful means, the country’s security forces held discussions with the group’s leader, Azzumudie Kiram, also known as Agbimuddin Kiram in the village.
However, it ended in bloodshed on March 1, when two of the Special Operations Force Vat 69 personnel, ASP Zulkifli Mamat, 29, and Sergeant Sabaruddin Daud, 46, were killed in a shooting incident while security forces shot dead 15 enemies.
Four days later, the security forces launched an aerial attack using Hawk and F-18 jet fighters in the Kampung Tanduo area as one of the first steps towards ending the Sulu terrorist intrusion. — BERNAMA