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Journalists stopped, standoff continues

 | February 21, 2013

Weariness is creeping in as the standoff between Malaysian security froces and the Sulu armed group drags on well into the second week.

LAHAD DATU: Three Al-Jazeera journalists covering the standoff with the Sulu armed group were detained by police for nearly seven-hours and then released.

They were detained at about 8am yesterday as they were in a boat near the Tanjung Labian not far from the seaside village of Kg Tanduo and taken to the Cenderawasih police station for questioning.

Detained together with them was a boatman and three Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) youth wing members.

Sabah Police Commissioner Hamza Taib said all were released except for the boatman who did not have a proper identity document on him.

Hamza said that they were detained as they were trying to enter a security area and it was for their own safety.

Hamza urged local and foreign journalists to avoid trying to enter the area as it might create untoward incidents.

SAPP assistant secretary Suaib Mutalib said the three SAPP youth members were accompanying the Al Jazeera journalists who wanted to cover the stand-off between the Malaysian security and the Sulu gunmen.

He said that the General Operation Force (PGA) which detained them handed them to the police who recorded their statements and released them at about 3.30pm.

Weariness is creeping in as the standoff between Malaysian security forces and the Sulu armed group holed up at the seaside village of Tanduo in the east coast of Sabah drags on well into the second week.

Negotiations, according to the authorities, are continuing at various levels though several deadlines have passed with no clear indications as to when the armed foreigners will be deported.

Farmers, fishermen face losses

The police, army and the coastguards have steered clear of the invaders and maintained their non-confrontational positions to avoid bloodshed on orders from the Home Ministry.

Police commandos and sniper units are positioned in a 20 sq km radius land and sea cordon with an inner security ring said to be half a kilometre away from the Kg Tandau homes in Felda Sahabat 17 about 165kms from here.

“We are on standby and very alert. We holding up in the oil palm plantation and awaiting orders from the higher ups,” said a security official, adding that a medical team was in place.

Camping around an old mosque in the kampung, the group led by Sulu Raja Muda Azzimudie Kiram appeared to be running short of water and food source supplies from the farms abandoned by the villagers who fled after the arrival of the first group of gunmen on Feb 9.

Farmers and plantation workers have been kept out by the security cordon with many of them complaining that they were unable to harvest their oil palm fruit along with other produce.

Many had tried to enter the area to harvest their palm oil and fruits, while others want to feed their livestock, but have been barred from entering by the security forces.

One said he was even accused of bringing in foods and drinks to the armed intruders.

“I merely wanted to harvest my palm oil and other fruits, I plan to stay a bit longer as the work will not be finish in a day or two, but instead I was accused to trying to bring in foods and water to the armed group,” he told the media.

Fishermen in the area have also complained that they were unable to go out to sea to fish.

“My four trawlers are stuck in the market jetty here like many others. Each day the Sulu group is allowed to stay in Tandau, I lose about RM6,000 for each my boat,” said fishing fleet owner Francis Chong.

Prices shoot up

Chong said that each trawler going out to the Sulu Sea returns with a catch of 6,000 to 10,000 tonnes of fish a day.

“But now I have sent four other trawlers to fish in Darvel Bay and Semporna (south Lahad Datu),” he said, adding that the retail price of fish in the market here had gone up 30%.

Like the villagers in the oil palm plantation, Chong is hoping that a speedy solution will be found to the standoff.

Local politicians have meanwhile urged the public not to listen to rumours of possible outbreak of violence in Lahad Datu and other parts of Sabah and police have issued a similar statement in its Facebook page.

Chief Minister and state security committee chairman Musa Aman said that the security forces were in “full control” and have exercised great restraint in dealing with the intruders and argued that it was not a sign of weakness but a deeper understanding about the complexity of the issue.


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