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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sabah’s security command set for revamp after two kidnappings

Armed men are seen near a door of a hotel in Sabah, April 2, 2014. A Chinese tourist and a Philippine hotel worker were abducted by armed men at Singamata Reef Resort off the coast of Semporna, the second of such an incident to occur in the eastern part of Sabah. – Reuters pic, April 30, 2014.Armed men are seen near a door of a hotel in Sabah, April 2, 2014. A Chinese tourist and a Philippine hotel worker were abducted by armed men at Singamata Reef Resort off the coast of Semporna, the second of such an incident to occur in the eastern part of Sabah. – Reuters pic, April 30, 2014.Putrajaya is planning to restructure the one-year-old Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) in the wake of the recent kidnappings on islands off the east coast of Sabah, said sources.
The Malaysian Insider learned that Putrajaya was concerned with the weaknesses in the security unit which had led to easy intrusions into the country's coastal areas, especially in the east coast of Sabah.
"There are too many loose ends and weaknesses in Esscom. Two major kidnapping cases within a year," a source told The Malaysian Insider.
The Esscom issue is expected to be raised in Cabinet for a final decision to be made on the restructuring exercise.
Meanwhile, a minister has indicated he will challenge any effort to restructure the security unit.
"I will protest and vote against the proposal," the minister told The Malaysian Insider on condition of anonymity.
While the minister did not reveal the exact plans for the restructuring of Esscom, there is a strong possibility of a major revamp of the agencies within the security unit.
In an earlier report, Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim proposed to create three deputy director-general posts in Esscom to enable it to function more effectively.
Shahidan said the posts could be created representing the three leading enforcement agencies - Malaysian Armed Forces, police and Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).
"For me, the best part is through coordination. But, we need to promote the grade of police, military and MMEA through grade progression to serve in Esscom for the post of deputy director-general due to their related roles," he said.
The RM300 million security command was launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in April last year in response to the Sulu Sultan’s armed incursion into Lahad Datu in February, which left 76 dead and 15 injured.
Esscom covers 1,400 km of the east coast of Sabah from Kudat to Tawau, and was formed to strengthen Malaysia's maritime security in the area and to prevent further intrusions by terrorists.
However, the security unit came under heavy fire from both BN and Pakatan lawmakers following two abductions on island resorts off Sabah in the past one year, leading them to bill it a waste of public funds.
Early last month, 29-year-old Gao Hua Yun from Shanghai and 40-year-old Marcy Dayawan @ Mimi were abducted from the Singamata Reef Resort in Semporna.
The incident occurred several months after a Taiwanese national, Chang An Wei, 57, had been abducted by armed men from Pom Pom island.
In the November incident, Chang's companion, Li Min Hsu, 57, died after being shot several times by the armed men.
Chang was freed a month later in December after a sizable ransom was reportedly paid for her release.
The fate of Gao and Marcy, however, is still not known although it is learned that the kidnappers, believed to be Abu Sayaff terrorists from southern Philippines, have already made their ransom demands.
The Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents has expressed reservations that the tourism industry might be affected if security was not increased.
Despite these two incidents, Shahidan recently told the Dewan Rakyat that Esscom was still a "success" because it had prevented further incursions since the Lahad Datu incident.
In dismissing criticism on the security unit’s alleged failure, Shahidan told the House during question time that it had fulfilled its main goal – to prevent armed intrusion into Sabah’s east coast.
Meanwhile, Esscom director-general Datuk Muhammad Mentek said he had not heard anything about plans to restructure the agency.
"I will continue with my work as usual because there is a lot to be done," he said, declining to elaborate further.

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