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Malaysia Intensifies Border Security Following US Warnings

Luke Hunt | Kota Kinabalu 20 January 2010

In Malaysia's eastern state of Sabah, authorities have intensified security along the maritime border because of continued strife in the southern Philippines and travel warnings from the United States.

There are fears that scores of Filipinos could flee to Malaysia's Sabah state to escape the Manila government's crackdown on Islamic militants and powerful local politicians in the southern Philippines.

As a result, Malaysia is getting tough on illegal immigrants already living in places like the state capital, Kota Kinabalu. Sabah, on the northern tip of Borneo island, is a short boat ride from the southern Philippines.

The United States also has warned its citizens that criminal and terrorist groups could be plotting attacks in Sabah. The State Department urges Americans to avoid the area, or use extreme caution, especially when traveling to remote island resorts in the state.

Following the warning, Sabah's police commanders ordered increased patrols, particularly along the east coast and around islands frequented by tourists. They say tight security will be maintained to counter any threat.

Over the past decade, the U.S. has spent millions of dollars helping the Philippines fight terrorist outfits like the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah in the south.

Bradley Allan, a regional security analyst with the Hong Kong firm Allan & Associates, says similar travel advisories have been issued in the past and are more a reflection of affairs in Mindanao, where Abu Sayyaf still operates, than in Malaysia.

"They say that 60 percent of all the U.S. aid funds into The Philippines goes to Mindanao," Allan said. "… And so for all this weight of aid and U.S. effort, that these Abu Sayyaf can still launch raids and can still move pretty freely along the waterways really says something about the effectiveness - or lack of - of the aid program in southern Mindanao."

The Malaysian government has urged the United States to review what it calls a misleading travel advisory that could create a wrong impression. The government says tourists need not be unduly worried when coming to Sabah as the situation remains peaceful.

The U.S. advisory did not provide details of any possible threat. It noted, however, that the al Qaida-linked group Abu Sayyaf in the southern Philippines has kidnapped foreigners from secluded resorts in Sabah and the Philippines in the past.



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