Kidnapping: Indonesia hits out at Malaysia’s inability to secure borders
Published on: Wednesday, January 22, 2020
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Graphic: airtimes.my
JAKARTA: Indonesia has hit out at the “ineffective coordination” of Malaysian authorities that have resulted in the repeated kidnapping of its fishermen operating legally off Sabah.

This follows the latest abduction of five Indonesian fishermen last week off Tambisan, near Lahad Datu. It underscored the lack of security in the tri-border area between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Six members from a faction of the notorious Abu Sayyaf militant group abducted the five from their trawler about 10 minutes from the Tawi-Tawi chain of islands in the southern Philippines.

Indonesian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahendra Siregar said the government would work swiftly to take the necessary steps to handle the fresh kidnappings to ensure the safety of the hostages. However, he expressed disappointment in the inability of Malaysia’s authorities to secure its borders.

“We truly regret that these sort of incidents keep repeating. It seems to have been caused by ineffective coordination among Malaysian authorities, among other things,” Mahendra told reporters at the House of Representatives.

“We hope this is improved quickly.”

The hostages were part of an eight-man crew aboard a Sabah-registered fishing vessel, before armed gunmen took them to the southern Philippines.

Security forces under the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscomm) were alerted to the incident by other fishermen at 1pm on Friday and immediately carried out a search operation while alerting their Philippine counterparts.

Philippine security forces reportedly gunned down an Abu Sayyaf militant believed to be involved in the kidnapping.

Regional intelligence sources said the gunmen were currently on the run with the hostages from the pursuing military forces,

“Currently, the government is coordinating with counterparts in the Philippines as it has now become the domain of Philippine authorities,” Mahendra said. He had also asked Malaysia to strengthen its commitment to protecting Indonesian fishermen operating in its waters.

The Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta was not immediately available for comment.

The Abu Sayyaf group, a loose association of militants who kidnap for ransom and operate out of the southern islands of the Philippines, began targeting Indonesian sailors in 2016.

As many as 39 people had been abducted before Thursday’s incident, although the government has denied claims it has paid the ransom demands.

Terrorism analyst Ali Wibisono of the University of Indonesia argued that there was a historical sentiment among the militants in the southern Philippines that could explain why they were often emboldened to act out in the areas near Sabah.

The Philippine militant group, which Ali said had roots among the Moro people of the region, believed Sabah was part of the territory taken from it in past conflicts.

“Other factors include recent improvements in [Philippine President Rodrigo] Duterte’s security operations to eradicate the Abu Sayyaf group. On the other hand, Malaysia is still trying to cover the large area of Sabah’s waters with their limited [capacity],” Ali said on Monday.

Separately, Institute for Policy Analysis and Conflict director Sidney Jones said that findings from a forthcoming study by the think tank point to the fact that Indonesian fishermen that live and work in and around Sabah were subservient to Malaysian boat owners.

“The decision to set sail for fishing and the time spent out at sea is decided by the towkay [boat owners], not the fishermen,” she told The Jakarta Post.

“It is important to note that Malaysia’s security authority [Esscomm] has imposed a curfew for all seafarers to cease all maritime activity in the area between 6pm to 6am to mitigate the risk of Abu Sayyaf kidnappings. However, some abductions have still taken place during the curfew period – at times when the boat owners [often] instruct the fishermen [to sail],” she explained.

The string of Abu Sayyaf abductions has prompted Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to form a trilateral cooperation initiative that includes coordinated maritime patrols and other cross-border arrangements. Indonesia has previously hit out at Malaysia for similar lapses in security.


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