Esscom welcomes opening of sea borders to hunt criminals

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KOTA KINABALU: The Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) has welcomed the Philippines’ invitation to Malaysia and Indonesia to open each other’s borders in the fight against cross-border criminals and militants.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte last week was reported as saying he would discuss the possibility of creating a task force to combat Islamic State-linked militancy with its two neighbouring nations.

He planned to meet with his Malaysian counterpart Najib Razak and Indonesian President Joko Widodo to discuss the opening of borders to facilitate unimpeded hot pursuit of criminal elements in territorial waters.

“We welcome the potential agreement between the three governments — the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia — to allow our security forces to enter each other’s waters while in hot pursuit of pirates, kidnappers and militants,” Esscom chief Hazani Ghazali told FMT today.

“This would definitely avoid the lag time — the gap between when we stop chasing on reaching our maritime border and the time the neighbouring country’s forces continue the chase.

“This is what we want — to be able to pursue until we apprehend the criminals.

“A meeting between the security agencies of the three nations, and perhaps between the relevant ministers, too, will be held on this matter in Kuala Lumpur next month.”

Duterte had indicated that the meting with Widodo and Najib could happen after security forces have fully resolved the siege in Marawi city in the southern Philippines by Islamic State-affiliated militants.

The militants are reportedly from the Maute and Abu Sayyaf groups. The Abu Sayyaf are led by the Islamic State’s emir-designate in Southeast Asia Isnilon Hapilon.

Isnilon and Abdullah Maute, the leader of the Maute group, are both on Esscom’s list of wanted people.

Abdullah was reported to have been killed in an airstrike in August but his death has yet to be confirmed.

Over 600 militants, 145 soldiers and 45 civilians were reported to have been killed in the clashes in Marawi city, which started on May 23.

In June, former Esscom commander Wan Abdul Bari Abdul Khalid said there were concerns that Isnilon and Abdullah could try to slip into Sabah to escape the dragnet by the Philippine military.

Sabah’s east coast is accessible via a short boat ride from the trouble-prone areas in the southern Philippines.

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