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Southern Philippines Could Be ‘New Somalia’

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A member of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency rescues an Indonesian sailor who was shot during a kidnapping on the east coast of Malaysia’s Sabah state. This handout picture was released April 16, 2016.

Indonesia and Malaysia are bolstering security along their borders with the southern Philippines, and an Indonesian official has warned that the area could become “the new Somalia” after a recent surge in maritime kidnappings.

Companies that ship coal from Kalimantan to the Philippines have been forced to suspend shipments or change routes after 14 Indonesian sailors were abducted at sea by Abu Sayyaf militants. Based in the southern Philippines, the group has declared allegiance to the Islamic State extremist group and is demanding a million-dollar ransom for 10 of the men.

Malaysia, which has seen four of its nationals kidnapped, has allocated 50 million ringgit (U.S. $12.8 million) to beef up security in its easternmost state of Sabah to contain trans-border crime in the area, the nation’s police chief told BenarNews.

The Royal Malaysia Police is establishing forward operating bases on islands in a special security zone off the state’s coast “to anticipate any future threats in the waters of Sabah,” said Police Inspector-General Khalid Abu Bakar.

Malaysia had earlier designated the area as the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM), and bolstered security there following a daring 2013 incursion by a band of fighters loyal to a Sulu Archipelago sultan claiming the territory.

Indonesia, meanwhile, has invited foreign ministers and top defense officials from the Philippines and Malaysia to Jakarta on May 3 to discuss safeguarding maritime trade routes among the three countries.

“The agenda will be the possibility of joint patrols in the area,” Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Binsar Panjaitan told reporters in Jakarta on Thursday, in announcing the meeting.

“We don’t want this area to become the new Somalia,” Luhut said, referring to the Horn of Africa country whose pirates raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in ransom payments between 2005 and 2011. Somalia also is home to al-Shabaab, a militant group linked with al-Qaeda.

Beheading threats

On Tuesday, Luhut said the shipping company that employs the 10 crew members kidnapped on March 29 had agreed to pay a ransom, but negotiations were still under way.

Abu Sayyaf has demanded a ransom of 50 million pesos (U.S. $1.07 million) for the 10 sailors.

The group for years has run a kidnapping racket from Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago in the southern Philippines. Last week, it issued a video in which it threatened to behead one of four hostages on April 28, if a ransom demand for two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Filipina were not paid by then.

In November, Abu Sayyaf beheaded a Malaysian citizen, Bernard Then, who had been snatched from a seaside restaurant in Sabah in May and taken to the southern Philippines.

Authorities are not yet sure who abducted four more Indonesian sailors on April 15, although Malaysian officials originally pinned the blame on Abu Sayyaf, based on accounts from six crew members who escaped and made it to shore in Sabah.

Shipping stopped

A spokeswoman for PT Patria Maritim Lines, whose crew was kidnapped March 29, declined to comment on ransom negotiations with Abu Sayyaf.

She said the company had suspended all shipments after the incident, pending improved security conditions in waters near the Tawi-Tawi islands, where the kidnapping occurred.

“Even if another company requests a coal delivery to the Philippines, we will turn them down for now,” Sara Lubis told BenarNews.

PT Kideco Jaya Agung, a company based in Paser, East Kalimantan, said it was still shipping coal to the Philippines but had been forced to change routes to avoid the threat of piracy in waters near Tawi-Tawi.

“We’ve changed the distribution route of ships carrying coal exports to the Philippines. We use the Java Sea and Makassar Strait to reach the Philippines,” company official Siswoko told BenarNews.

New bases in Sabah

In Manila, Philippines Secretary of Foreign Affairs Jose Rene Almendras assured Malaysian counterpart Anifah Aman that his government was “taking all the necessary measures” to ensure the safe release of four Malaysian sailors kidnapped April 1, a Malaysian Foreign Ministry statement said Friday.

The new security outposts being set up in ESSCOM zone off Sabah’s east coast will be manned by Marine Police, Special Forces and Air Operations Force members, among other units, Police Inspector-General Khalid told Benar.

A new forward base has been operational since April 11 at Mabul Island, while another on Bangi Island would be activated soon, he said. Mabul lies off the southern coast of the eastern tip of Sabah, and Banggi lies off its northern coast.

On Monday, Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein announced that the ministry would station six MD-530 G light helicopters in the area by the end of 2016.

Sabah Police Commissioner Abd. Harun Rashid told BenarNews that the choppers would strengthen security in the zone.

Malaysia police were ready to assist Indonesian security forces in combatting piracy in the area, he added.

“Malaysian police and the Indonesian security forces must work together to find ways of a more coordinated action. We are ready for any further action by parties involved, including assisting on the kidnapping,” he said. (BenarNews)

Gunawan in Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, Indonesia contributed to this report.

  • La Munsterr..

    Indonesia and Malaysia should work together, we should just shot in sight any Filipino terrorists that tried to intrude our borders. Philippines has proved themselves that they cannot facing these bunch of terrorists. It is the time we use our new weapons to fight these terrorists who said they fight for Islam, but they kill our people who are Muslims too.

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  • La Munsterr..

    Indonesia and Malaysia should work together, we should just shot in sight any Filipino terrorists that tried to intrude our borders. Philippines has proved themselves that they cannot facing these bunch of terrorists. It is the time we use our new weapons to fight these terrorists who said they fight for Islam, but they kill our people who are Muslims too.

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2.6 mn Children at Risk in Philippines Measles Outbreak

The Philippines outbreak comes after global measles cases increased by 48.4 per cent between 2017 and 2018, according to Unicef analysis

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Measles, WHO
A health worker vaccinates a toddler against measles in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. VOA

Health experts have warned that about 2.6 children in the Philippines were at risk due to a measles outbreak in the country as more people have died from the disease this year than in all of 2018, the media reported on Friday.

The outbreak has killed 261 people this year alone and most of the victims were children aged under five, a 547 per cent increase that the previous year with 202 deaths, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) found.

“It is completely unacceptable that children are still dying from measles in 2019,” CNN quoted Richard Gordon, chairman and CEO of the Philippines Red Cross, as saying on Friday.

The IFRC, with the Philippines’ Department of Health, is now aiming to immunise all unvaccinated children across seven of the “hardest-hit regions” over the next 12 months.

“We are drawing on the skills and dedication of our two million Red Cross volunteers to go door-to-door and neighbourhood-to-neighbourhood,” Gordon added.

Vaccination, vaccine
A child receives a measles vaccination in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Aug. 6, 2018. (VOA)

Filipinos’ confidence in vaccines fell dramatically after a 2014 scandal involving a new dengue fever vaccine, Dengvaxia.

Those with no history of dengue were at a greater risk of developing a more severe form of the disease after having the vaccination.

Rudy Constantino, Director of the Philippines Department of Health Disease Prevention and Control Bureau, told CNN that vaccine levels for measles, flu and other diseases dropped from 70 per cent in 2017 to 39 per cent in 2018 “because of the Dengvaxia scare”.

Also Read- Post-Pulwama, Kashmir Helpline Gets Over 500 Calls

Gundo Weiler, the World Health Organization representative to the Philippines, said the country was now suffering from a measles outbreak “every three to four years”, pointing to large-scale outbreaks in 2011 and 2014.

The Philippines outbreak comes after global measles cases increased by 48.4 per cent between 2017 and 2018, according to Unicef analysis. (IANS)