KOTA KINABALU: Senior Philippines military officials are expected to meet their Malaysian counterparts to discuss security coordination in view of a spate of kidnappings along the shared sea borders.
Western Mindanao Command (Westmincom) spokesman Maj Filemon Tan Jr said that Westmincom chief Lt Gen Mayoralgo dela Cruz would be setting the meeting next week.
Tan said a joint patrol might be among the issues to be discussed in finding solutions to the kidnappings of 18 sailors - 14 Indonesians and four Malaysians - in three separate raids along the Sabah and Tawi-Tawi sea borders since March 26.
He said troops were on high alert following the latest kidnapping of four Indonesian sailors on board tugboat TB Henry by Filipino gunmen on Friday night.
The other six sailors including one who was shot during the raid fled towards Sabah and arrangements are being made for their return to Indonesia while the injured victim remains in the Tawau hospital.
However, Tan said the military was still trying to ascertain the identities of the abductors who attacked TB Henry in the seawaters near Pondo Sibugal, Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi.
He said the attackers might just be claiming to be members of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) as the Sulu sea had many pirate groups in operations.
Following abductions along the border, Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Tun Hussein had called for joint patrols and aerial surveillance with neighbouring countries to tackle piracy and kidnappings in the Sulu Sea.
There is also mounting pressure by leaders of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) to address the issue of kidnappings following the April 6 Sabah government’s move to ban barter trade with its neighbours in Tawi-Tawi where prices of sundry goods including fuel have doubled.
ARMM executive secretary Laisa Alamia said the sea trade shut down was badly affecting traders in Tawi-Tawi, which has a traditional barter-trading route in the southern backdoor of the country.
He said ARMM Gov Mujiv Hataman wants to meet Philippines president Benigno Aquino Jr to discuss the issues with Malaysia.
Tawi-Tawi, a chain of islands along the Sabah’s east coast, relies on sundry goods and other supplies from the state as it is closer and cheaper source then getting the goods from the Philippines’ Zamboanga City.
Residents in the area claimed that the price of a bag of rice has doubled from around 600 Pesos (RM60) to about 1,200 Pesos (RM120).
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