Malaysia to resettle villagers to safeguard Sabah
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said Malaysia will resettle villagers in several eastern Sabah locations suspected of being entry points for militants and illegal migrants, in the aftermath of a bloody incursion by an armed Filipino group.
It is part of the larger Eastern Sabah Safety Zone initiative announced earlier this month to safeguard 1,400 km of the state’s east coast whose waters border the Philippines.
“The decision to resettle any individual or group of people is for the sake of maintaining public security,” Najib told reporters at a Police Day parade yesterday.
He said the Eastern Sabah Security Command will discuss suitable relocation spots with village and district chiefs.
But analysts say the move, along with a call by major Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties for all identity cards in the state to be recalled and reissued to only genuine Malaysians, could hurt the BN in upcoming elections.
“By relocating people, we are acknowledging that some parts of the country are not safe,” said Dr Faisal Hazis, a political analyst at Universiti Malaysia Sarawak.
“If people are not happy with relocation and how the Lahad Datu incident is managed, it could spell trouble for BN.”
The zone covers 10 districts – from Kudat to Tawau – and will be administered by a committee led by state Chief Minister Musa Aman, who will report to a monitoring committee chaired by the Prime Minister.
On February 9, some 200 Sulu gunmen entered a village two hours by road from the major town of Lahad Datu to press claims on parts of Sabah.
Since then, eight policemen and a soldier have been killed along with 65 Sulu militants and the operation is ongoing.
“By setting up the ESSzone committee, the government is adopting a holistic and not a purely military approach to protect eastern Sabah and find a solution to the intrusion issue,” Najib said.
He added that the establishment of the zone did not constitute the declaration of an emergency nor give police extra powers in the state, so elections can still be held in Sabah.
Some village heads say they will move if the government can guarantee they will not be living among illegal immigrants, on whom they blame crime and illegal drugs.
“We want the illegal immigrants to have a separate settlement,” Majid Saribu, a village chief in Semporna, told The Straits Times.
This will not be easy, he admitted, as illegal immigrants have intermingled with locals for decades and are hard to differentiate.
The 2010 census showed that 28 per cent or about 900,000 of Sabah’s 3.2 million population are foreigners, both legal and illegal, mostly Filipinos from the southern Philippines.
The call by the three major indigenous Sabah parties – Parti Bersatu Sabah, United Pasokmomogun Kadadandusun Murut Organisation and Parti Bersatu Rakyat Sabah – to recall and reissue all identity cards in the state have raised the stakes regarding Sabah’s perennial illegal immigrant problem.
The identity card, also called the MyKad, is used by Malaysians for most official dealings including starting a business and going to school.