Why single Sabah out, tourist officials ask US over ‘K’ list

A Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency vessel patrolling the waters off the Sabah east coast. (AFP pic.)

KOTA KINABALU: Tourism players have criticised the US authorities for singling out Sabah when they put Malaysia on the “K” list in a travel advisory early this month.

The “K” list, which warned of potential kidnappings on the Sabah east coast, was issued by the US State Department on April 9.

Tourism officials believe Malaysia has taken the necessary steps to improve the security situation in the state and thus putting Malaysia on the list is unwarranted.

Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents (Matta) president Tan Kok Liang said there have not been any new incidents involving tourists to Sabah recently.

Tan admitted however that Sabah had been in the news for the wrong reasons, such as cross-border crimes including kidnappings and the intrusion in Lahad Datu previously.

Tan Kok Liang

But, he said the government had taken measures to curb such crimes through the establishment of the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) as well as imposing a dusk-to-dawn curfew at sea.

Tan said Sabah’s security forces had done a good job of safeguarding the east coast where there has been an increase in arrivals involving Chinese tourists.

“If we look at other bigger countries, including France, they too have terrorism incidents but there is no travel advisory to these countries, so why single out Sabah?” he told FMT.

Last week, Wisma Putra summoned US ambassador to Malaysia Kamala Shirin Lakhdir to protest against the decision to include Malaysia on the “K” list.

Sabah Chief Minister Shafie Apdal has also given an assurance the east coast was safe when he urged the US to remove Malaysia from the list.

Tony Chew

Tan said the Sabah authorities should not publicise reminders of the curfew on the east coast as it will not help boost confidence in the tourism industry.

He also said the security forces should continue with their border patrols.

“When the public hear of the successful crackdowns on crime and foiled intrusion attempts, they will automatically know how efficient our security forces are,” he said.

Sabah Tourist Association (STA) chairman Tony Chew also described the travel advisory as unfair.

He said Esscom had significantly reduced kidnapping cases off Sabah, adding that recent incidents did not involve any tourist.