Reminders of the attack: A soldier viewing the shell of Mat Bom’s house that was destroyed during the incursion.
LAHAD DATU: Kampung Tanduo was once a small, remote coastal fishing settlement of 55 families located deep within Felda Sahabat. Since the Sulu incursion in 2013 however, the village has undergone a drastic transformation.
Public entry is now restricted as Malaysian forces have set up a military base there as a pre-emptive measure against possible future attacks.
During the events in Lahad Datu early last year, Kampung Tanduo was turned into a battleground where over 100 Sulu gunmen waged war against Malaysian forces in an attempt to regain the land in the name of late self-proclaimed Sulu Sultan Jamaluddin Kiram III.
Even a year on, it is difficult for those not familiar with the landscape to imagine the lengths taken by Malaysian forces to maintain a security ring. While Kampung Tanduo itself is not large, Felda Sahabat where the village is located spans an area about the size of Singapore.
The land is no level plain, with oil palm plantations obscuring vision and providing convenient cover to stealthy intruders. To reach the village after exiting a turn within Felda Sahabat requires a further 15-minute drive through rough terrain.
The conversion of Kampung Tanduo into a base gives security forces a much-needed leg up in maintaining coastal defence.
Operations in the village have since been taken over by the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM), a government body established after the attacks and tasked with maintaining security on the eastern border.
Many of the wooden houses that once stood have been razed, either by gunfire, aerial attacks or demolished for security purposes.
What is left are a few ramshackle structures kept by military personnel and a larger stilted wooden building which has been turned into a surau. Bunkers and barricades of sandbags are strategically placed facing entrances into the village.
Further out, another bunker looks to the sea and a nearby surau is used as a home and shelter by army officers keeping vigilant watch.
“I consider this area secure, memang selamat (very safe),” said commanding officer of 15th RAMD Lt. Kol. Mat Noh Ngadiman.
“(The base) is necessary to show a security presence so locals can go to the market, to plantations and carry out their everyday tasks without fear,” he explained.
When asked if there were any paranormal activities in Tanduo, Mat Noh replied with a smile.
“There are stories of things here and there but we don’t talk about them to keep morale up. When we enter a home, we give salam (greeting).
“As there are also graves around and this is the location of bloodshed, only Allah knows about what is or is not present. What we can do is hold congregational prayers and ask an
ustaz to lead doa (prayer),” he said.
With the exception of the military, no one else is to be seen in the vicinity. The only others around are friendly strays begging food from officers stationed in the former village.
“Her name is Blackie. She’s a good dog,” said an army personnel, pointing to a mongrel with two puppies obediently trailing behind her.
“She doesn’t like intruders and will attack if someone comes,” he added with a grin.
As for the villagers who fled, they were people of varied origin. Some are Malaysians with valid identification documents, and some are without, having settled here from across the Celebes and Sulu seas. Tawi Tawi island in the Philippines is about 65km from Kampung Tanduo.
A number of Tanduo’s residents had ties of kinship to the Sulu intruders and these villagers may or may not have provided them shelter during the conflict.
The question of whether to accord any of the villagers blame for their involvement in the incident is something many are divided about.
“The nearby villagers of Tanjung Labian and Tanjung Batu have been relocated but there is no news of plans for those from Kampung Tanduo and Sungai Nyamuk.”
“We should encourage resettlement for residents from those two villages as well. It is not right to punish them,” said community chief of Tanjung Labian, Assaffal Alian.
“We should see these villagers as human beings who also need the protection of the government,” he added.
The journey back to the battlefield at Tanduo
After the bloodshed soldiers help make peace