Tuesday, 26 March 2013

#LahadDatu: A boat's eye view of the conflict zone

I did not know what to expect when I was finally allowed to accompany the marine police out to sea after three days of persuading them, but I was excited and admittedly, a little nervous.

At 9am on Saturday, I, together with three other videographers from various television stations, were escorted by the police, marine and soldiers to board a three-engine police strike craft vessel (PSC Class) from the Felda Sahabat 16 jetty to Sungai Bilis about 12km from here.

I climbed down a short vertical staircase to board the vessel and was welcomed by several armed personnel - a sight which soothed my nerves.

We were separated into two vessels - the PSC 51 and 52 - accompanied by our own "bodyguards", which made me feel like a very important person, and sailed on the calm sea approximately half a nautical mile (1km) away from shore.

The first thing I saw on the hour-long trip was acres of trees when passing by Kampung Tanduo - the first village besieged on Feb 12 and the blue-roofed surau where more than 100 Sulu terrorists were reported to have first landed upon arrival.

We passed Sungai Nyamuk and Tanjung Batu after that and wondered who still hid behind those trees. There were damaged structures as a result of the fighting.

Later, I saw a bridge that was believed to have been used as one of the hiding spots for the militants before security forces dropped mortars in the area to forcibly flush out gunmen from Sabah soil.

I watched in awe at the sight of smoke at Sg Nyamuk and wished that the mortar dropped did not go to waste.

We were told by our guide, officer of Operation/Intelligence for the Marine police force Abdul Aziz Abu Hashim that the area was still in the process of being cleared of remnant gunmen and that we were lucky to witness the aftermath from afar.

A helicopter was hovering around the area to detect possible threats on the ground and I know they, too, were longing to end the operation so that everyone could move on.

Moving further, we saw a lighthouse along the area which guides local marine boats and fishing vessels but unfortunately, used by the intruders to find their way in.

I asked myself what would happen if someone shot at us. Where would I go? Jump into the sea or wait for help to arrive? But we passed the area without any incidents.

There were occasional glimpses of soldiers patrolling the shores but no sign of locals in these areas, as most of them have left their homes and live in the temporary shelters following the Lahad Datu intrusion.

We returned to base safely, looking forward to the day when we could enter the red zone on foot and see for ourselves what had become of the kampungs in the centre of Ops Daulat battles, in security forces' move to flush out the enemy.

Malaysian security forces launched at all-out attack on March 5 against a group of Sulu gunmen from southern Philippines who had been holed up at Kampung Tanduo since Feb 9. So far, 67 gunmen have been killed in Ops Daulat, while more than 100 have been detained and eight charged in court.

Source : TheStar


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