Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Sabah is safe for tourists

Tourists are still safe in Sabah, minister Datuk Seri Ng Yen Yen assured today, saying the armed standoff between Malaysian security forces and Filipinio militants in Lahad Datu have not affected the rest of the east Malaysian state.

“There are army officers guarding the islands like Sipadan who have been there all this time,” The Star Online quoted Ng as telling a press conference at the Malaysia International Tourism Bloggers Conference and Awards today.

The minister added that reports from Malaysia Airlines show that tourists are still coming to Malaysia but those headed to Sabah have changed their destinations, opting for other tourist spots like Langkawi.

The Malaysian Insider understands that the deadly clashes with the southern Filipinos have spooked both Sabahans and tourists, with taxi drivers and hotel workers reporting a 20 per cent drop in tourism in Kota Kinabalu.

Tourists who wish to fly to Lahad Datu from Kuala Lumpur to visit the Danum Valley Conservation Area have to stop at Kota Kinabalu before taking another flight here.

Kota Kinabalu residents have also been stocking up on food, fearing the Sulu intrusion that has spread across three districts in the eastern coast of Sabah.

Malaysian forces rained gunfire from 7am this morning on the armed Muslim rebels in Kampung Tanduo early this morning, flexing its muscle against the group after repeated attempts at peaceful negotiations failed.

At 11.30am, Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Ismail Omar said no Malaysian life has so far been claimed in the attack, but it is yet to be verified if there are casualties among the gunmen, who claim to be the “royal army” of the Sulu Sultanate in Philippines.

“Alhamdulilah (Thank God), there was no loss of lives among the security forces, whether among PDRM (Royal Malaysian Police Force) or ATM (Malaysian Armed Forces),” Ismail told a press conference at the Felda Sahabat 16 resort here today.

Armed Forces Chief Gen Tan Sri Zulkifeli Mohd Zin, who was also at the press conference, said that bombs were used at a four kilometre square radius at the village, but refused to specify how many or the size of the security forces.

“Since the operation is going on, we can’t expose whatever system we are using,” he said.

“We are very positive that there were no civilians at the area,” added Zulkifeli.

In an early report on Philippines TV network ABN-CBS this morning, a spokesman for the Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, Abraham Idjirani said their followers in Sabah were still safe and ready to fight on.

Jamalul’s brother, Agbimuddin Kiram, who claims to be the crown prince of Sulu, had landed in Kampung Tanduo with over 200 men on February 9, insisting that Sabah belongs to Sulu based on colonial documents from the late 19th century.

Malaysia, however, says that the token annual payment of RM5,300 is given to the sultanate not as rent but for the sultanate to cede its rights over the land, which has been part of Malaysia for decades.

IGP Ismail said that the security forces were currently raiding the houses at the village.

“There is no need to worry. The operation is only at Kampung Tanduo,” he added.

Zulkifeli said yesterday that seven more battalions have been sent to Sabah since Saturday, with five in Lahad Datu and one each based in Sandakan and Tawau.

He has said that although the armed Filipino militants were present only in Kampung Tanduo in Lahad Datu, as well as Kampung Lormalong and Kampung Dasar Lama in Kunak, security personnel were deployed to Sandakan and Tawau to provide security for residents there.


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