Sabah State in Malaysia closes its Eastern Border with the Philippines

Repeated incidents such as kidnapping are forcing the State of Sabah (Borneo Island in Malaysia) to shut down its eastern international boundaries to cross-border trade as part of measures to prevent further kidnappings in the area.

Sabah Chief Minister Musa Aman said the decades-old barter trade activity in Sandakan and other east coast towns was to be ceased immediately. This was among seven measures the Sabah Cabinet agreed to at its meeting here on Wednesday (April 6), following the abduction of four Malaysian sailors from a tugboat in waters near Pulau Ligitan off Semporna last Friday.

Other measures include the immediate halt of transhipment trade of petroleum and gas products in the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (Esszone), spanning 10 districts from Kudat to Tawau. He said amendments would be made to the 7pm to 5am sea curfew in seven east coast districts from Beluran to Tawau and details were being worked out by security forces.

Musa Aman said security forces would also seize any foreign pump boats in Sabah waters. He also said that merchant vessels sailing in high-risk areas would be given protection by Malaysian security forces. “We will need the cooperation of vessel owners to ensure such protection materialises,” he said after chairing the state Cabinet meeting here.

He said the proposed ferry services between the northernmost town of Kudat and Palawan in south Philippines that was scheduled to begin in May had been deferred.

Mr Musa said the measures reflected the Sabah government’s resolve to rid the east coast of the menace posed by kidnap-for-ransom groups based in the southern Philippines.

“This is not only a Sabah problem, but one that has national implications as well,” he added. When asked if there were any links between barter traders and cross-border criminal groups, Mr Musa said: “We do not know who these people (the barter traders) are bringing in.”