First security, now environ
Illegal immigrants, long associated with security problems in the State, are now also posing a threat to the environment in Sabah. Commissioner of Police, Datuk Noor Rashid Ibrahim, revealed Friday that they have been destroying thousands of precious mangrove trees along coastal areas to make items for sale.
He said police have found it difficult to intercept these culprits, believed to be largely Filipinos, as they make their way through narrow and remote rivers, such as those in East Coast district of Sandakan in Beluran. Using the maze of rivers to cover their tracks, the illegals hack down the trees only to take the bark, locally known as kulit tangal, which they then use to make a homemade liquor called tanduay and even soda and varnish. The items are then commercially distributed in their land of origin and also sold in Sabah.
Due to lack of equipment and geographical difficulties, Noor Rashid said police have so far only managed to intercept one boat laden with about two tonnes of mangrove barks worth about RM7,000, about four months ago. "We arrested eight illegals after two weeks of surveillance in one of the rivers in Beluran. They were trying to sneak out the kulit tangal in barges É this is very serious," he told a press conference at the Sabah police contingent headquarters in Kepayan.
According to Noor Rashid the boats presently at their disposal are bulky, hence, too big to navigate the shallow rivers. "That is why if we have more smaller boats we can go in and check the mangrove areas, which are mostly in Beluran É it will help a lot," Noor Rashid said, thanking the Sabah government for the five boats handed over to the police earlier Friday. "It will be now easier to go into areas with shallow waters," he added.
Three of the boats would be distributed to the East Coast while the remaining vessels would be utilised in the West Coast. "The boats will be useful for intelligence work such as on illegals, smuggling and drug activities in the East Coast and rescue operations in the event of floods in the West Coast," he said.
On security, Noor Rashid reiterated that Sabah was safe for visitors, with heightened patrols in waters, especially in the East Coast. "We have re-programmed our patrols É now we focus on several concentrated areas as opposed to previously when we mobilised our men far away. This way our presence can be seen. "We have identified seven areas such as Sebatik Island, Sandakan, Semporna and Tawau, where the traffic at sea is heavy." General Operations Force (GOF) troops on all the 49 islands they are looking after have also been instructed to be on the lookout, Noor Rashid said, adding police have also increased communication with the military in case they need their assistance. "We are more vigilant now É the probability (of illegal immigrants) of coming in is slim," he said, pointing out the many media reports on arrest of illegal immigrants were proof that security was tight.