SSA will secure Sabah coastline

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MASSIVE OPERATION: It will involve the deployment of five battalions of soldiers as well as policemen for round-the-clock surveillance

WHEN Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak visited Lahad Datu last Thursday to get a briefing and visit security forces involved in the operation to eliminate and hunt down Sulu militants, Sabah's top state leadership  was with him.

This illustrates the cohesion between the federal and state leadership in dealing with the threat to Sabah's sovereignty posed by the Sulu armed intruders.

To the state government helmed by Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman, the prime minister is a leader who truly cares for the people of Sabah and one who walks the talk.

Taking cognizance of the intrusion by the Sulu terrorists, Najib announced the setting up of the Special Security Area (SSA), covering the east coast of Sabah, aimed at securing the safety and security of the state.

A massive operation under the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), with headquarters in Lahad Datu, will involve the deployment of five battalions of soldiers and other police personnel to conduct round-the-clock surveillance along the 1,400km coastline, from Kudat to Tawau, to prevent unwanted elements from coming to our shores.

The task of coordinating Esscom has been placed on Musa's shoulders as chairman of the state security committee (SSC), an indication of Najib's continued confidence in the Sabah chief minister's leadership.

Musa promptly responded to the task entrusted to him by pledging the state's commitment to make available a strategic site for the Esscom command centre in Lahad Datu.

Wasting no time, Musa also chaired a special meeting of the SSC to map out the groundwork for the establishment of Esscom, which is modelled after the Rajang Area Security Command (better known as Rascom), formed in 1972, that effectively eliminated the communist threat in Sarawak that existed in the 1960s and 1970s.

At the meeting were top officials from the home and defence ministries, including Deputy Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Khalid Abu Bakar.

The meeting decided to set up a technical working committee, headed by State Secretary Tan Sri Sukarti Wakiman, to fine-tune the scope of operations of Esscom.

"I'm confident that Esscom will go a long way towards ensuring the safety and security of the state," Musa said, adding that the people of Sabah were grateful to the prime minister for always being pro-active in solving issues and problems affecting the state.

As some of Sabah's most popular tourist attractions are located in the east coast of Sabah, Esscom is a relief to players in the state's thriving tourism industry.

The east coast is Sabah's gateway to Borneo's premier eco and wildlife attractions, such as the world-renowned Danum Valley conservation centre and the famed diving haven of Sipadan.

Despite the incident in Lahad Datu, Sabah remains a safe place to visit, with the tourism business fully operating as usual.

Tourism operators in the state are working together to inform their partners overseas that Sabah is open for travellers, including the attractions in the east coast.

Tourists who have visited and stayed in Lahad Datu and islands of Semporna have come back full of enthusiasm and happy that they had continued with their tours.

"They felt safe and secure. They informed us that things are like normal and the communities in the east coast are going about their usual daily activities," said State Tourism, Environment and Culture Minister Datuk Masidi Manjun.

In any case, security forces have cordoned off the areas affected by the Sulu terrorists, which are nowhere near tourism attractions.

With one of Sabah's main economic development initiatives, the multi-billion ringgit Palm Oil Industrial Cluster, situated in Lahad Datu, the setting up of Esscom would also assure investors that the state is a safe place to do business.

With the heightening of security along the coast of Sabah, people in the "Land Below the Wind" can look forward to a lasting peace of mind as they go about their daily routine.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak visiting Lahad Datu on March 7 to see first-hand the situation.


Writer is a NST Sabah bureau chief

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