Sunday, 29 Nov 2020

Malaysia tightens security in Sabah amid Covid-19 surge, by checking on 'rat lanes'

KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Malaysian security forces in Sabah state have stepped up operations against illegal immigrants trying to slip into the state via backdoor routes, amid a surge in Covid-19 cases.

The commander of Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), Deputy Commissioner Ahmad Fuad said their operations were also focused on the Kalabakan area in Sabah’s east coast that borders Indonesia’s North Kalimantan province.

“We have fine-tuned it since beginning our patrols on the area in April. The land operations against illegal immigrants have been widened to include the Wakuba seashore area in Tawau.

These small, illegal routes – often at the edges of jungles or in isolated beaches – used to smuggle people and goods are called lorong tikus in Malay, or “rat lanes”.

“It has been successful, as the number breaches in illegal immigrant landing and smuggling hot spots have reduced, ” he said on Friday (Oct 30).

He added that this was also reflected in the prices of smuggled cigarettes increasing on the streets.

Sabah has accounted for more than half of daily Covid-19 infections in Malaysia over the last few weeks.

On Friday, of the 799 daily cases reported, 466 or 58.3 per cent originated in Sabah – the epicentre of the current third wave of infections in Malaysia.

Part of the recent spike in cases was caused by two weeks of election campaigning ahead of the Sept 26 Sabah state polls, as politicians mingled freely with voters.

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Another was the wave of infections in Sabah detention centres for illegal immigrants.

Sabah’s long sea border is shared by Indonesia’s Kalimantan and Sulawesi provinces and southern Philippines.

Sabah hosts Malaysia’s largest oil palm plantations that provide jobs for migrants.

Datuk Ahmad said Esscom was working with the police’s General Operations Force (GOF) and the Armed Forces to continue tightening Sabah’s land and sea borders to check on the entry of illegal immigrants, especially through the Malaysia-Indonesia shared island of Sebatik which is a 10-minute boat ride from Tawau.

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DCP Ahmad said Eassom is also keeping close tabs on the cross-border criminal and militant groups based in southern Philippines that could threaten the security of eastern Sabah.

“We remain alert against ‘kidnap for ransom’ groups, and also militant Abu Sayyaf who are always trying to carry out crossborder criminal activities in our eastern Sabah waters, ” he said.

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