Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia: People-smuggling, jihadis, and vice

by 1389 on June 6, 2014

in 1389 (blog admin), Australia, human trafficking, Malaysia, Pakistan, Philippines, travel, Turkey

Lahad Datu, Sabah, Malaysia

Philip Golingai puts a good face on Lahad Datu as a tourist destination:

TheStar: Sabah’s cowboy town

Lahad Datu has gained notoriety, and may be a harbinger of what lies in store.

THE coffee shop talk about the 4.45am Lahad Datu shooting on Wednesday is that it involved soldiers, Bugis bouncers, Tator bar girls, a karaoke outlet, a convenience store, a poisoned dagger, stabbing and an M16.

As news broke that a soldier was killed in the east coast Sabah town, many versions of the incident emerged throughout the day.

The official version as reported by The Star is, a soldier from Kelantan was killed and two Indonesian civilians injured in the shooting involving a commando outside a convenience store. The commando, who was believed to have fired several shots, was on patrol duty when the shooting occurred following an apparent commotion outside the Gemilang 24-hour convenience store.

I was not surprised to receive several versions via WhatsApp as Lahad Datu is indeed a cowboy town with endless illicit possibilities. The name “Lahad Datu” is synonymous with last year’s armed Sulu invasion in Kampung Tanduo, about an hour’s drive from the town.

Here’s another example of how notorious the town is.

About one or two years ago, I saw on YouTube a video of a commotion next to a fish market. In the chaotic scene, where some members of the public were fleeing for their safety, a man was seen using a canopy umbrella to attack another man.

Suddenly you hear bang, bang, bang. The video camera panned to the left and you see a man in black firing a warning shot.

The man armed with an assault rifle was followed by more men in black armed with assault rifles. After a few bang, bang, bang, they controlled the riotous situation.

“My God,” I thought. “Must be somewhere in some lawless province in Indonesia.”

Five days before the Gemilang shooting incident, I was on assignment in Lahad Datu town. During lunch when we were discussing how lawless the town was, I was told about an incident that happened probably in 2011.

Kau ingat kah ada kejadian menembak di pasar ikan di sana? (Do you remember that there was a shooting incident at the fish market over there?),” said Ali Andu Enjil, a 53-year-old Suluk community leader in Lahad Datu.

“Huh! You mean this incident?” I said, showing him the video after I found it on YouTube on my smartphone.

“Yes, that one,” said Ali Andu.

“I thought it happened in Indonesia,” I said.

I’m now wondering why, as a Sabahan, I had failed to notice the familiar landmarks (Maybank and fish market) in the video.

“Who were the gunmen?” I said.

Polis bah tu (they were policemen),” said Ali Andu.

“We wrote about it. I think it appeared in The Star,” said my colleague Muguntan Vanar, who is based in our Kota Kinabalu office.

“What happened?” I said.

“The official version is the marine police were involved in a raid against illegal cigarette sellers,” Muguntan said.

Ali Andu’s version differed.

He gave the Suluk community’s point of view on the incident. It involved an attempted interrogation of a contraband cigarette seller at the sea next to the fish market.

The Suluk community leader also told us about the Lahad Datu siege when a group of armed pirates from southern Philippines landed at the harbour, marched 200m to Standard Chartered bank and robbed it in September 1985. Thirteen people, including a pregnant woman in a passing car, were killed.

Hope I’ve not given a negative impression of Lahad Datu. I love Lahad Datu!

One of my favourite activities in the town is to go to the fish market to buy freshly caught fish. That’s what I did two Tuesdays ago.

I bought ikan tongkol (tuna), colourful ikan ogos (which I’m told is parrot fish), cockles bigger than a 50 sen coin and seaweed and I got the restaurant in Asia Hotel to cook them for me. It was a yummy simple meal.

Lahad Datu town is also the gateway to the 43,800ha Danum Valley Conservation Area that Prince William and Kate Middleton visited in 2012 and the Tabin Wildlife Reserve inhabited by the Borneo Elephant and Sumatran Rhinoceros. You can also drive about 90 minutes north of the town and reach isolated Dent Haven, the eastern most point of Malaysia where on a clear day you can see Bongao, the capital of Tawi Tawi in southern Philippines.

Lahad Datu has also produced notable Malaysians such as Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail and former Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Yong Teck Lee, who is SAPP president.

The town is also home to colourful characters.

During my latest visit, I met a cross-border smuggler who has half of the town in his pocket. If you go to the Lahad Datu jetty, it is obvious that he’s not in the business of fishing when you compare his speedboat to the real fishing boats. The dual citizen smuggles human cargo and contraband back and forth between Sabah and his hometown in southern Philippines.

You can also meet a Moro National Liberation Front commander who commands a platoon that can seize a small town.

At a glance, you’ll think he’s some downtrodden illegal immigrant. In fact, he’s a battle-hardened commando who fought in the Moro wars against Manila in the 1970s. He was also among the MNLF fighters who waged a bloody three-week battle with Philippines forces in Zamboanga city in September last year.

Below the two sleazy karaoke outlets not far from the Gemilang convenience store, there are fair-skinned Tator (from Tanah Toraja in Sulawesi) girls walking the streets at night. They’re renowned for their bedroom skills.

If you ask me for a must visit Sabah destination, I would suggest Lahad Datu so that you’d get a glimpse of the future towards which my state might be heading.

Fake passports at Sabah airport

Malaysian Insider: Sabah Immigration nab 5 foreigners for using fake passports at airport – Bernama

The Sabah Immigration Department has arrested five foreigners for using fake passports to travel in and out of the country from the Kota Kinabalu International Airport (KKIA) over the past two months.

Its director, Noor Alam Khan Abdul Wahid Khan, said the latest arrest was made last Wednesday involving two Turkish men, who were caught using fake passports in their attempt to catch a flight to Kuala Lumpur.

On April 6, he said a Pakistani man was arrested for using a fake Malaysian passport bearing the name of Muhammad Shahrul Bin Fauzi in an attempt to leave for Perth, Australia from KKIA.

He said initial check on the passport number revealed that it belonged to Halleyza Binti Ibrahim and was reported missing in Kajang, Selangor on June 6, last year.

The two other foreigners arrested for the same offence were Turkish men on transit to Manila, Philippine on April 19, he said.

Noor Alam said in a bid to prevent such a crime, the department had increased its monitoring activities on the trend of foreigner arrivals at the airport, especially from the Middle East and South Asian countries.

Further investigations would also be done with cooperation from the police to detect the mastermind and the syndicate, believed to be active in travel document fraud and smuggling of migrants, he added. – Bernama, May 16, 2014.

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