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Security in Sabah in spotlight again after abductions

Security in the state of Sabah in east Malaysia is back in the spotlight after three kidnappings since March. Regional security experts warn of a militant resurgence in the area if such criminal activities are not stopped.

KUALA LUMPUR: Security in the state of Sabah in east Malaysia is back in the spotlight after three kidnappings since March.

Regional security experts have warned of a militant resurgence in the area if such criminal activities are not stopped.

Sulu Sulawesi area, off the east coast of Sabah, is in a remote location. A lack of governance and poor economic structure has helped criminal activities and militancy to thrive there.

The recent spate of kidnap for ransom cases by criminal groups linked to the Abu Sayyaf militant network in southern Philippines have set alarm bells ringing.

Regional security experts warned these incidents may threaten the Bangsamoro peace agreement signed between the government and its largest Muslim rebel group, the MILF.

Captain Martin Sebastian, head of the Centre for Maritime Security and Diplomacy, said: "My biggest worry is the funds they gain from these kidnappings would snowball to actually derail the peace process. That's what happened in Somalia - it started with hijacking and ransom and then more players coming in."

To beef up its forces, the Malaysia Navy said that the US will be deploying powerful marine security boats to hunt and capture criminals.

Admiral Abdul Aziz Jaafar, chief of the Royal Malaysian Navy, said: "The boats will be manned by us and will be operating in these waters. We welcome that kind of help."

But experts said it will be difficult to secure the long and porous coastline of Sabah from Kudat to Tawau, which stretches some 1,400 kilometres.

Captain Sebastian said: "We need to have intelligence led operation and not just concentrate on speedy operation."

While Kuala Lumpur and Manila must tighten cooperation in law enforcement and the sharing of information, getting the local communities involved is equally important.

Captain Sebastian said: "Private security can be assigned and employed by resort operators (in the area) and they can become eyes and ears for security forces."

Faced with dwindling tourist arrivals with nearly 80 flights to Sabah cancelled in the past months, resort operators may have no choice but to beef up their own security for now. 

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