On the lookout for smugglers

Treacherous path: An Aksem officer showing the once abandoned logging trail where tontos observe the movement of the authorities.

Treacherous path: An Aksem officer showing the once abandoned logging trail where tontos observe the movement of the authorities.

BUKIT KAYU HITAM: A 10km-long abandoned logging trail at Bukit Kachi here has been dubbed the “festive lane” because it is said to be a favourite route among smugglers whenever a festive season draws near.

It offers direct access between Thailand and Malaysia, although crossing it is no walk in the park: most of it is compacted red earth and rough stones and only wide enough for one vehicle.

At one point, there is a stream with a few logs placed across it to serve as a makeshift bridge.

It takes an expert driver about two and a half hours to reach the border point at the hilltop.

The trail is located about 15km from the border checkpoint here.

A path on the left side of the road leading to Bukit Kachi, past an abandoned sand mine, leads to the trail.

It is learnt that during every festive season, be it Hari Raya Aidilfitri, Chinese New Year or Deepavali, the trail gets busy with at least eight to 20 convoys of pick-up trucks traversing the narrow route.

They typically carry tonnes of items such as rice, firecrackers, fireworks, cigarettes and other goods worth millions of ringgit.

At the end of the trail, they disperse into shorter village routes leading to their scheduled destinations.

The authorities are also concerned that firearms are being smuggled into the country via this route.

A source from the Kedah Malaysian Border Security Agency (Aksem) said that in the past two years, there have been no arrests or seizures along the trail itself.

“If there was any seizure, it was always done some distance away.

“There were three times we tried acting on a tip-off but failed,” he said.

The agency is certain that convoys are using the path based on tyre tracks found along the “festive lane”.

“Once, we received a tip-off that eight pick-up trucks from Malaysia had gone up the trail to the border to receive smuggled goods from their Thai counterparts,” the source said.

“We went there but could not detect them as we believe they were hiding in one of the villages on the Thai side.

“We waited but they never came out. They are well supplied with information on our movements by tontos.”

He added that the vehicles used by the smugglers were also fitted with high-grade communication devices.

“Their vehicles have high-end walkie-talkies, aerials and night vision monitors, which make communication among their group members really easy, even up on the hill.

“These smugglers from both sides would come up in the evenings and meet at the peak by 8pm or 9pm.

“Goods are transferred from Thai to Malaysian vehicles within minutes.

“Then they would wait for the signal from the tontos. They normally come down at about 2am when the green light is given,” he said.

The authorities may not have been successful in detaining these smugglers on the trail itself but they have had significant success in intercepting the shipments further along the transport network, the source added.

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Courts Crime , trail , smuggle