Stopping cross-border trade will lead to complex smuggling network, says lecturer

KOTA KINABALU: The move to cease sea border trade between Sabah and southern Philippines is unlikely to have any long-term impact on cross border crimes but will likely give rise to a more complex smuggling network.

Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) academic Prof Dr Kamarulzaman Askandar said that the move to freeze the centuries old barter trade could be seen as a ``knee jerk’’ reaction towards the latest April 1 kidnapping of four Malaysian sailors off Pulau Ligitan by Abu Sayyaf gunmen.

``If you close one door, another door opens. Even with the blocking of legal channel, it will only be a matter of time before illegal smugglers appear. This would become a more complex and difficult situation to handle,’’ Prof Kamarulzaman, a lecturer from the humanities, arts and heritage faculty.

The professor, who specialises in conflict and peace making, said that the real issue was security and there was a need for Malaysia to strengthen its own borders with high levels of patrols and also have good collaboration with Philippines.

He said the move to block the cross border sea trade was also unlikely to see much reaction from the Philippines government as the country was now busy with its May 2016 Presidential elections as well issues pertaining to South China Sea.

``Kidnapping in the Philippines is happening all the time and there is little priority given to it.  Abductions occur more often during elections as part of fund raising for certain political groups. 

``It is unlikely they are going to put any priority towards our kidnapping problems with their people on the border. They may just be seen taking some action to address Malaysian concerns,’’ he said, adding that it is more important for Malaysia to strengthen its patrols and enforce curfew. 

Prof Kamarulzaman said that merchant ships and tugboats operating along the sea borders should consider hiring armed guards as a measure to protect themselves against the criminals.

Sandakan-Zamboanga City Business Council chairman Chai Soon said barter trade in the east coast towns of Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Tawau totalled between RM150mil and RM300mil annually.

“It is definitely going to impact us. The move to stop barter trade will hurt Sabahan businesses including traders, transporters and even hotels and restaurants,’’ he said when asked to comment on moves to stop sea border barter trading.

Federation of Sabah Industries president Datuk Seri Wong Ken Thau also called on authorities to step up cooperation with Philippines security forces to resolve the longstanding kidnap for ransom threat posed by the Abu Sayyaf group based in Jolo island.

The impact of halting barter activities with southern Philippines will likely be felt in the months ahead.

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