1. I visited Lahad Datu on March 17, to see the members of our security forces and get a short briefing as to what was happening.
2. I was surprised to learn that the Felda palm oil plantation there is as big as the state of Melaka. There is a good-sized port at Lahad Datu equipped with modern cranes. I had expected to see forests there but the whole area has been opened up and Felda settlers live in large houses built by them. They are obviously well-off.
3. The security boys are in good spirit and seem prepared to do their duty despite the real danger of their being killed or wounded by the Kiram terrorists.
4. The situation there is very complex. The Felda settlers are Malaysian citizens of many tribal origins including Suluk. But there are also non-citizen Suluk living in the villages in the area.
5. The non-citizens seem to have been allowed to cultivate oil palms. However, at least one of them was very aggressive and insisted that he owned the part of the Felda estate next to his. Apparently, he collected the fruits and sold them for high profits as the palm oil prices were very high. Nobody dared to take any action against him.
6. There were quite a lot of non-citizen Suluks living in the area and many of them seem to have relations in the Philippines. They seem to move in and out of Sabah freely. Some apparently cooperated with the terrorists, probably sheltering them and keeping weapons for them. It is most likely that the weapons for the terrorists had been smuggled in earlier and stored in the “water-village” which dot the Sabah coast.
7. It is noted that for some time now there were no police, immigration or customs personnel stationed in these water villages. It is easy for boats to come in and leave without any official knowing their movements. In any case the water-villages have rickety gangways of narrow planks, laid over loosely on trestles. The dwellings are very close together, making it very difficult to observe the whereabouts of the villagers. It is really dangerous for the police to enter the water villages as they could be shot from the houses abutting the narrow walkways or from underneath them.
8. In any plan for securing the area, the water villages have to be demolished and the people settled on land. Apart from posing security risks, they are a source of rubbish and they use the water underneath as their toilet. Often when the tide is low, the mud underneath is exposed, with all the filth and rubbish that had been thrown into the sea.
9. Children bathe in the water around the water-villages and they must be exposed to all kinds of water-borne diseases.
10. These water villages may be picturesque but they are an anachronism. It is time they are removed and the people settled in proper villages on land. As for the people living there, if they qualify they should be allowed to apply for Malaysian citizenship. Non-citizens should be sent back to their countries.
11. In the meantime the security situation have to be tightened. It will cost money but it will be money well spent. Armed incursions into Sabah must be stopped completely. There must be a thorough search for weapons of all kinds including the parang. The security of the people must be the responsibility of the police. This is not America where people have to carry guns to protect themselves.
12. I must pay tribute to the security forces for their dedication and steadfastness in carrying out their duty. Whatever the shortcomings, the Malaysian Police are still the guardians of the safety of Malaysians.
13. My condolences to the families of those who died in the line of duty. I thank also those who are wounded and those who put their lives at risk so we may live in peace and security.