Malaysia is generally seen as a peaceful country. Despite occasional spats with Singapore and other neighbors, the country is rarely one to rattle its sabers. Still, an increasing number of illegal immigrants, militant invaders, and others have been making their way into Malaysian waters, and now the Malaysian government is giving the green light to its security forces to open fire on any such invaders.
The statements came from Malaysia’s Home Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who said firing upon intruders would be acceptable if it is the only way to stop intruders from entering the country. While giving the order to fire upon intruders might seem harsh for what essentially amounts to a trespassing charge, Malaysia has had to deal with armed Filipino militants, terrorists, drug dealers, sex trade slavers, and others.
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Datuk Hamidi’s statements followed similar statements by Navy chief Admiral Tan Sri Abdul Aziz Jaafar, who also argued that the use of force may be necessary to deter intruders.
Malaysia’s move comes after invaders kill police officer In Sabah
Malaysia is divided between peninsular Malaysia, resting just south of Thailand, and East Malaysia, an island state that shares territory with Indonesia and Brunei. A few days ago a police officer was killed during a gunfight with the invaders, and another kidnapped.
Authorities believe that the intruders were able to sneak up on the resort by using a row boat. Once on land they made their way around to the back of the resort and were able to mount a sort of sneak attack, catching the police officers off guard. The missing police officer has not yet been found but the Malaysian government is trying to recover him.
While the identity of the intruders remains unknown, they fled in a boat with the kidnapped officer and appeared to be making their way towards a southern island in the Philippines that is known for being a base for Filipino militants who claim that portions of Malaysia’s territory actually belong to the disposed Sultanate of Sulu.
This marks the fourth attack this year. In April, a Chinese tourist and Filipina worker were kidnapped, and a few weeks later another Chinese individual was also abducted. A few weeks ago, in June, a Chinese and a Malaysian individual were also kidnapped. Negotiations for the captives’ release are on going.
For now, tourist resorts are continuing to operate as normal. It’s possible however that if the problem is not brought under control, the region’s tourism industry could take a hit. East Malaysia is a popular tourist destination due to its pristine diving spots and beautiful beaches. East Malaysia is also not as densely populated as peninsular Malaysia.
Internal disagreement over the need to use deadly force
Not everyone agrees with the use of force. Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail rejected the notion of shooting intruders on site and emphasized that Malaysia is not a military state. Still, with the increase in attacks from Filipino militants and other issues, his voice may be drowned out by others looking to increase security.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Najib is attempting to find a middle ground, not ruling out the use of fire arms to deter or stop intruders, but also stating the need for establishing standard operating procedures. The Prime Minister emphasized that innocent lives must be protected.
Illegal immigrants from Indonesia, the Philippines, Bangladesh and elsewhere also frequently enter Malaysia, often by boat. While the Malaysian government is looking to deter such immigrants, a shooting of unarmed immigrants would almost certainly lead to international uproar. For now, the government must strive to walk a fine line between security and safety.