A Special Report By Arthur Edward
LAHAD DATU (Sabah) — Come Tuesday, after officially starting operations on April 1, 2013, the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) celebrates its first anniversary.Seen as the guardian of Sabahans, ESSCOM was indirectly the result of the Lahat Datu intrusion episode in February 2013 that has since been playing a crucial role in maintaining security at Sabah’s eastern front.
The Kampung Tanduo intrusion where a band of armed Sulu gunmen landed to stake a claim on Sabah on the behest of the late Jamalul Kiram III, the self proclaimed Sultan of Sulu, and the subsequent bloody episode in Simunul where six policemen were brutally killed remain fresh in the minds of millions of Malaysians.
Moreover, Sabahans are increasingly confident with the ESSCOM’s ability in protecting Sabah’s sovereignty and maintaining security at the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZONE).
The ESSZONE encompasses 10 districts – Kudat, Kota Marudu , Pitas, Beluran, Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau.
ESSCOM, which is being headed by its Director General Datuk Haji Mohammad Mentek, is made up of four components – Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM), Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM), Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (APMM) and public agencies.
“ESSCOM has successfully combined the roles of the four parties and plays the intermediary role in reducing the communication gap, apart from enhancing coordination and collaboration in security matters.
“ESSCOM is now on the right track. The government is also highly committed in ensuring the success of the ESSCOM and ESSZONE mission,” he said to Bernama.
In facing any eventualities including terrorist invasion or trespassing and up to cross border crimes, he said ESSCOM has enhanced security patrols at night, and due to the effective integration, cooperation and collaboration there was no repeat of any intrusions.
“ESSCOM has succeeded in stopping the attempts by foreigners to enter Sabah illegally to commit criminal acts like the kidnapping of Taiwanese tourists in Pulau Pom-Pom on 15 Nov 2013,” he said.
Apart from that, Mohammad noted that ESSCOM had established six Quick Response Force that were capable of intercepting vessels or boats entering Sabah waters illegally.
ESSCOM HAS SUCCEDED IN ENHANCING THE CHECK POINTS
“We have increased the number of check points and improved the amenities in the existing ones, thus complementing the sea, land and air patrols,” he said adding that the government has allocated RM11 million to upgrade the infrastructure at 62 check points.
Apart from that, he said, the government through ESSCOM would spend around R2.28 million to rebuild houses that were razed during the intrusion episode in Tanjung Labian, in Lahad Datu.
Mohammad noted that ESSCOM is committed in ending the illegal immigrant menace at ESSZONE, especially in the resort islands.
In achieving this, ESSCOM has launched integrated operations Ops Gasak 1, Ops Gasak 2 and Ops Gasak 3 on several islands off Semporna.
“We will continue with Ops Gasak not only on resort islands off Semporna but also in other areas like water villages at ESSZONE,” he said.
Being fully aware of the kidnapping threats, ESSCOM has met with resort owners there to explain on why its important to join hands with the authority in securing their resort.
This includes the installation of CCTV and employing guards at the resorts.
“I see that there is awareness on the resort operators’ side in ensuring their resorts are safe for visitors.
“Apart from meeting the community on the islands, ESSCOM has held similar meetings with non-governmental organisations (NGO), business community, community leaders or grassroots and youths,” he said.
ESSCOM’S FUSION CENTRE
ESSCOM is also planning to establish an information fusion centre at the ESSCOM headquarters to strengthen maritime monitoring and intelligence gathering.
“ESSCOM has also taken a new approach to monitor security and step up security patrols at ESSZONE by collaborating with Rukun Tetangga (KRT) and Volunteer Scheme patrols (SRS) introduced National Unity and Integration Department at ESSZONE.
“KRT and SRS members could serve as the “eyes and ears” of the government especially within ESSCOM in channeling information regarding illegal immigrants. Being locals, they know better of strangers or illegal immigrants in their area,” he said.
Mohammad noted that ESSCOM is set to meet with the heads of fishermen associations in ESSZONE soon, to find a way to get the fishing community involved in maintaining security at Sabah’s east coast.
A CHALLENGING UNDERTAKING
He said, it was no easy task in maintaining security at ESSZONE due to the many challenges including the vast waters and the long coast apart from the many islands scattered nearby.
“Apart from that the mangrove shoreline served as the easy entry point for intruders, and the international border is located close to us. As for example the Tanjung Labian Zone is located about half and hour or forty minutes from the international border,” he said.
The ESSCOM proposal was first announced by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak during his visit to Lahad Datu on March 7 last year after the operations to flush out the Sulu invaders and on April 1 ESSCOM officially took off.
In the Lahat Datu incident 10 Malaysian security personnel were killed along with 68 of the invaders in the Ops Daulat launched to drive out the invaders. The episode is a dark chapter in the nation’s history and a grim reminder on how vulnerable are our borders.– BERNAMA