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Monday, April 25, 2016

The Price for Peace

On 1st April 2016, a distress call was received from a Malaysian tugboat in the waters off Ligitan islands. Of the crew of 9 men, 4 men, all Malaysians from Sibu, Sarawak were taken hostage by the group believed likely to be Abu Sayyaf.

Emergency response were swift.  But the kidnappers had left Malaysian waters. The first responders were baffled.  Why choose an unguarded route when the Sandakan - Tawi-Tawi route is well protected?  (The area they were taken was near to the border meeting point between Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines.

While the question why they had chosen the route is yet to be answered, the families had since received calls demanding for ransom.  A total ransom of RM30 million was requested, likely due to the hostages' family links to Member of Parliament for Lanang, Alice Lau. 

To-date, it is claimed the family has managed to raise only RM4 million, but the deadline, 30 April is way too near.

Many are questioning why is the government not taking any action on this most recent kidnapping, ie negotiating with the kidnappers or at least mount a rescue operation.

With the impending state election in Sarawak, it is unfortunate to see that the issue is now being capitalised by some quarters to be made into a political issue.

Before we are even willing to delve deeper into this latest kidnapping, let me ask you a question.  How much are you, an ordinary Malaysian, is willing to give up, to see these 4 Malaysians are rescued?

What is at Stake?
It is not just the lives of these 4 Malaysians that are at stakes.  It is more than that. I will take you through what is at stake here, from the smallest details up to the macro level. 

The Hostages 
The four hostages, Wong Teck Kang, 31; Wong Hung Sing, 34; Wong Teck Chii, 29, and Johnny Lau Jung Hien, 21, are 4 Malaysians, all from the timber town of Sibu, Sarawak.  Wong Teck Kang and Teck Chii are both brothers, making this a perfect tragedy.  Add in the spice that at least 1 of them is related to Lanang Member of Parliament, Ms Alice Lau (this detail was unethically released to the public by a social media netizen, which had probably resulted in a higher ransom being requested). 
The four Malaysian hostages.  By 30th April, if
Abu Sayyaf does not receive RM30 million, their lives is forfeited.

By 30th April, if the Abu Sayyaf Group does not receive RM30 million, the lives of the 4 will be forfeited. 

Malaysian Military and Police Special Forces Operators 
If required, Malaysian special forces units, be it Grup Gerak Khas (GGK), Pasukan Khas Laut (PASKAL), Pasukan Khas Udara (PASKHAU), or even Police Special Forces, VAT69 can be deployed to rescue the hostages.  

And they had done it before.  They had once rescued a Chinese fish farm manager, kidnapped off Tawau.  Despite rumours that ransom were exchanged, not a single sen were exchanged back then.

Would they be able to pull out another rescue?  My answer to this is depending on the locations where the hostages are being kept.  But that I will not further divulge, in case these is being read by people friendly to the kidnappers. 

Implication of Direct Action
However, for our troops, be it police or military to launch a rescue mission deep in Filipino territory without the Philippines government permission can be construed as an act of war.  

As it is already known, the Philippines government still claims Sabah as part of their territory.  Therefore, if it is made publicly known that Malaysian troops had conducted a rescue mission in Philippines territorial waters, it would likely to anger Filipinos at large. 

With the Philippines Armed Forces is conducting flushing out operations in the areas right now, entering into the combat zones right now would and could probably lead to either friendly fires; assuming that you consider shots fired by Philippines Army as friendly fire, or worse, an all-out war between both nations. 

Another implication of direct actions is the possibility of operational failure.  Would you be willing to see bodies of dead Malaysian troops being dragged along the roads of Basilan, Cotabato or wherever our forces is being deployed to rescue the kidnapped victims?  

Would you be able to bear watching videos of bodies of Malaysian soldiers being mutilated by crazed terrorists? 

Or would you be willing to look into the face of the widow of these soldiers or police officers telling the widows, thank you for your husband's sacrifice for our nation?  Would you be able to hug the father of a dead police officer or soldier, thanking him for the sacrifice of his son?  The last two, I have done.  And I do not relish to do it again (READ HERE)

How about Operating With Philippines Armed Forces and Police Force?
It is an option, but this option is not feasible.  

While both Philippine Armed Forces and Philippines National Police are very capable forces, they suffer badly in terms of operational secrecy.  

On the 9th April, 18 Philippines Army soldiers and special forces were killed in an ambush on Basilan island.  4 of the soldiers were beheaded.  Another 53 were seriously wounded.  (READ HERE)

Recently, an unverified report from Indonesia claimed that a week before the ambush, some Philippines Army personnel had warned Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) fighters who were based in a village nearby to move out of their village.  While the AFP may have wanted to avoid another Mamasapomo massacre (44 Special Action Forces troopers from Philippines National Police were killed while trying to kill or capture Malaysian-born terrorist Zulkifli Abdul Hir@Marwan -  READ HERE and HERE), they had inadvertently caused a repeat of the incident. 

How about the Bangsamoro? 
Malaysia has been the key proponent to the Bangsamoro Peace Agreement, signed in 2012.  If successful, we would be able to have lasting peace in Southern Philippines.  That means no more Abu Sayyaf or any other KFR (Kidnap For Ransom) groups. 

Any attempts by Malaysian security forces, as mentioned earlier may lead to the collapse of the peace process as we will no longer be seen as an independent party.  

And we have a precedent.  During the height of Sri Lankan war against the Liberation of Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE), Indian Government had tried to broker a peace deal between Sri Lankan Sinhalese-led government and V Prabhakaran-led LTTE.  

Unfortunately, LTTE decided to renegade on the peace deal which led to Indian Army conducting counter-insurgency operations against the LTTE.  

This culminated in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister who had sent the Indian Army into Sri Lanka.  He was killed when a suicide bomber from LTTE's women wing pretended to touch his feet before detonating a 700g RDX plastic explosive belt. 

If we thread this incorrectly, the whole Bangsamoro Peace Agreement will collapse and the hard work for last 17 years committed by Malaysia, Brunei, and Japan (all key members of International Monitoring Team under OIC banner based in Mindanao, with Japan providing technical support).

Not to mention the livelihood of 27 million (2007 statistics and probably 29 million as at today) lives.  If the peace process breaks down and conflict reignites, Malaysia, specifically Sabah, would probably be facing another influx of refugees from the Southern Philippines.  

The time shall come soon that all nations should consider for direct action to be taken against the Abu Sayyaf.  The fact that large group of Abu Sayyaf have already sworn loyalty to Da'ish, is an alarm bell ringing telling us that the time to tolerate their presence is over.  

But then again, will you be willing to face the consequences of the above choices?  If you do, then don't politicise this incident.  Lives of people should never be politicised.

Support them.  Support the military and give them the best equipment so that they can bring terror to the enemy.  So they will no longer be able to terrorise us.

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