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Lahad Datu bounces back 11 years after Tanduo incident
Published on: Wednesday, March 20, 2024
By: Bernama
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Lahad Datu bounces back 11 years after Tanduo incident
Camp Tanduo, one of the security forces’ control posts around the Labian Zone, following the invasion incident.
LAHAD DATU: It has been 11 years since the Lahad Datu stand-off, where Sulu armed militia from southern Philippines staged an armed attack on the east coast of Sabah.

The presence of hundreds of Sulu militia was detected on Feb 11, 2013 at Kampung Tanduo, a small village nestled in the far end of Felda Sahabat, about 120km from Lahad Datu town.

The terrorists, who were divided into several small groups, later encroached into other areas, including the neighbouring district of Semporna.

Efforts by the Government to stop the intrusion through a peaceful process met with failure, and on March 1, the invasion turned bloody when a shootout occurred between the insurgents and the Malaysian security forces at Kampung Tanduo, where two Malaysian security personnel were killed.

The stand-off, also known as Operation Daulat, ended on March 24. A total of 68 deaths were reported among the rebels with more than 100 of the Sulu terrorists arrested.

Eleven years later and with improved safety and security measures as a result of the various initiatives taken by the Government to maintain security in the east coast of Sabah, Lahad Datu, previously known as a “war town”, has bounced back in terms of economic growth.

Today, Lahad Datu has moved on from the 2013 incident and remains Sabah’s fourth-largest city with a fascinating history.

Sharing the economic recovery in Lahad Datu, its District Officer Firuz Idzualdeen Benetty Mohd Dzul said the establishment of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) was a crucial step by the Government in elevating the district to its present state.

The constant presence of Esscom patrolling the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone) together with the Malaysian Armed Forces (ATM), Marine Police and General Operations Forces (PGA) who maintained security cordons around the operation areas, provided a sense of security among Lahad Datu residents, he said.

This is further strengthened by the presence of Royal Malaysian Navy and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (APMM) vessels at strategic locations which injected confidence among the people and visitors.

 “Confidence towards the security level at Lahad Datu waters is reflected through the assessment made by the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) recently.

“In the report, ReCAAP has reduced the security threat, especially crew kidnapping attempts for ransom at the Sulu-Sulawesi Sea from high to moderate,” he shared.

Firuz Idzualdeen said, over the last four years, there were no kidnapping cases for ransom recorded at the national waters, following various operations coordinated by Esscom.

“Currently, various community programmes have been undertaken in Lahad Datu and the social activities organised also signalled that this district is peaceful and safe for tourists,” he said.

Elaborating, Firuz Idzualdeen said after the Tanduo tragedy, many industry players and investors pulled out of the district.

“Tourists were also afraid to visit the district, but over the past several years, the situation in Lahad Datu is more harmonious with the presence of many business premises. Investors and tourists have also returned. The property sector has also bounced back.

“We are stepping up efforts to lure industry players to return to the district as Lahad Datu has abundant economic opportunities to offer in addition to its strategic location for tourism,” he added.

Among other attractions, he said Lahad Datu is home to the oldest forest reserve with a variety of endangered wildlife, with breathtaking diving spots and the longest beach.

The first sunrise in Malaysia is sighted at Lahad Datu’s Tanjung Atiam, the easternmost point of Malaysia, which makes it the earliest place to see the sunrise in the whole country, he added.

Citing figures, he said visitor arrivals to the district have more than doubled in 2023, with 921,038 people compared to 121,237 in the previous year who entered the district via the Lahad Datu Airport.

 “Last year, we recorded 10,000 tourist arrivals from abroad, drawing them to popular spots such as the Tabin Wild Life Park, Danum Valley and the diving locations in Darvel Bay, that is the Blue Reef Ring.

“The presence of tourists in Lahad Datu is also encouraging, which proves that despite our small airport, the return flights from Kota Kinabalu to Lahad Datu are always full.

Similarly, the flow of tourists who took road trips to the district has also increased.

According to him, the Lahad Datu Port can also receive commercial vessels and passengers from Tanjung Silopo Port Poliwali Mandar, West Sulawesi, Indonesia since December last year.

“We will soon be receiving commercial vessels from the Philippines,” he said, adding the district is also attracting investors from Singapore, Japan and South Korea who are eyeing investment opportunities particularly in the Palm Oil Industry Cluster (POIC).

“We have also received courtesy calls from Singapore while representatives from Japan and other nations will also be visiting Lahad Datu to look into the possibility of setting up a factory here. This port can also accommodate large vessels,” he said.

Meanwhile, Esscom Commander Datuk Victor Sanjos said efforts by the agency in coordinating integration security operations involving the Royal Malaysia Police, ATM and APMM, contributed significantly to Lahad Datu’s economic recovery.

To strengthen security control, he said close cooperation was fostered through the sharing of intelligence information with the neighbouring enforcement authority, namely the Western Mindanao Command, Armed Forces of the Philippines (Westmincom, AFP) as well as police forces from the Philippines and Indonesia.

He said as a result of the close collaboration, Esscom succeeded in crippling the Abu Sayyap Group (ASG) and the Kidnap For Ransom Group (KRFG) on land and the waters of Sabah.

Esscom is also involved in theTrilateral Malaysia-Indonesia-Philippines (TCA) Cooperation Agreement which serves to coordinate the enforcement activities at sea and to ensure the territorial waters of the three nations are safe from cross border crime threats.

“Relatively, this area remains stable with Esscom; cooperation from the security forces at the Esszone managed to retain its zero incidence record of kidnapping since Jan 15, 2020 to date.

“This record shows the success of the government in clamping down kidnapping activities in the nation’s territorial waters,” he added.

Within the period 2000 to 2020, 25 kidnapping cases were recorded in Sabah waters, including Lahad Datu, but according to Victor, the trend has changed when Esscom coordinated its Operation Sanggah and other operations with the security forces in the Esszone.

“The frequency of integrated operations succeeded in combating foreign threats from entering or gaining a foothold in this country. Based on studies conducted by ESSCOM, the potential of militants’ threats or kidnapping activities in the national territorial waters are under control.

 “This development is assisted by military operations and enforcement actions by Philippines security forces which managed to cripple the ASG or KFRG activities.” he added.   

He said the agency also succeeded in foiling criminal plans to stage attacks domestically and across borders.

To protect the security of tourists who are the national assets, Victor said the agency has also developed a Friend of Sabah application which will be launched this year.

“Tourists will be asked to download this app to make it easier for them to lodge reports to the authorities when faced with criminal threats, while holidaying in this State.

The app is not meant to track down their movement but for ensuring their safety.“In case of an emergency, an individual only needs to press one button on the app and information will directly reach the Esscom Operation Centre, hence making it easier for us to trace them,” he added.

According to him, Esscom is also prepared to provide briefings to foreign embassies to explain the security situation in Lahad Datu and Sabah waters to allow them to update their travel advisory related to Sabah East Coast waters.

“Our target is not only towards tourists but also investors; the POIC has been declared as a free trade zone, which augurs well for investors. This is the responsibility of our security forces in ensuring that the investment climate is conducive, safe and provides returns for investors,” he said.

Efforts by the authorities to maintain security in Lahad Datu were welcomed by the local community who now felt safe to conduct their day to day activities.

“Previously, we were afraid to go out to sea for our daily catch as well as going out at night as our village is near the sea. But with constant patrolling by the security forces, (we) can now return to our regular activities to earn a living,” said Mohd Shah Abd Hassan, who resides at Kampung Bakapit, among the villages located at Felda Sahabat.

Mohd Shah, 57, said the situation has directly assisted residents in boosting their economy.

For Abd Hamid Abd Rasyid, Esscom’s success in crippling criminal activities, especially kidnapping attempts, proved the authorities’ commitment in ensuring Lahad Datu remains safe.

“Since 2020, there has been no such cases (on kidnapping), and as such, it is important to regain the confidence of tourists and members of the public that this area is safe to visit.

“But, don’t stop here. If possible, we should beef up our security by having additional security posts as proof that this area is safe,” said a resident of Kampung Ulu Segangan.

Abd Hamid, 60, expressed hope that with the confidence regained from tourists and investors toward Lahad Datu, the district can experience rapid development, hence generating economic spill-over effects for the residents.

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