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Harris: Shift RMAF base to Tawau, not Labuan
Published on: Monday, November 03, 2014
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KOTA KINABALU: Former Chief Minister Tan Sri Harris Salleh is appealing to the Government to reconsider the proposal to move the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) base from Butterworth to Labuan.Instead, he said, the air force base should be relocated to Tawau in the interest of security in the East Coast of Sabah.

According to him, he had sent the letter of appeal to the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ministers.

Harris also called on the people in Labuan to start voicing the appeal and urged Kuala Lumpur to focus on making Labuan a regional centre for oil and gas as well as a tourist island.

"The presence of the RMAF in Labuan will likely have a negative impact on tourism," he said.

Harris said Tawau was the best location for the RMAF base because Malaysia has no air force base in its eastern-most seaboard and it would be able to cover the vulnerable eastern coast of Sabah.

"It takes about one hour's flying time from Labuan to Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Semporna and Tawau on the East Coast of Sabah. This definitely causes an increase in travelling time in the event of an emergency," he said.

Malaysia, therefore, needs an RMAF base along its eastern seaboard and Tawau is an ideal location, he said.

Currently, Labuan is moving towards becoming an International Island City and it has already started to improve as well as moving into tourism activities.

Labuan, he said, had also been acknowledged and recognised as an important oil and gas support base and it would be declared a Free Flying Zone on Jan 1, 2015.

"Travel agents from China and Borneo have agreed to make Labuan a transit airport for tourists from China flying into various destinations on the island of Borneo.

"This is being implemented and Labuan will likely see one million tourist transit traffic in five years' time, a good percentage of the transit traffic is likely to spend one or two nights in Labuan.

"The RMAF has been in Labuan for more than 60 years – since the World War II. There are no benefits to Labuan and the people. This was also the reason why the Philippine Government did not renew the lease of Subic Bay to the Americans after 60 years of no benefit," he said.

"Knowing Kuala Lumpur I alone making any suggestion will not be entertained. But Kuala Lumpur will listen to the voices of the people of Labuan," he said.

It is also understood that the Federal Government may approve a number of oil and gas projects in Sabah and Sarawak, he said, adding that if this happens the importance of Labuan in oil and gas would be further reduced.

Harris said tourism must therefore come into the picture to provide business and work opportunities to support and sustain the economy of Labuan forever.

"Forever, needs preparation right now," he said.


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