The National Patriots Association said contrary to what Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein Onn claims, the government's handling of the Lahad Datu incident was an “ignominious failure” on several counts.
In a statement today, association president Brigadier-General Mohamed Arshad Raji (Rtd) said apart from being unable to detect the 200-odd Suluk intruders, the government chose to negotiate with them.
“As it was a foreign-armed incursion, without doubt, the first order should have been shoot to kill and not to negotiate.
“Even if for some reasons there was a need to negotiate, prior to negotiation, our security forces should have moved in to gain tactical ground and advantage,” he said.
Mohamed Arshad noted that it was only after two weeks of unsuccessful negotiation that the security forces were ordered in to engage the Sulu militants.
“Patriot feels sad that we had to lose 10 brave officers and men during the protracted engagement with the militants that lasted five weeks,” he added.
Arshad was commenting on Hishammuddin's remark yesterday in Labuan that the Lahad Datu intrusion was proof that the government was able to protect Sabah and its people from terrorists.
The minister said this when referring to the just-launched Pakatan Harapan manifesto which listed ensuring the security and sovereignty of Sabah as one of its pledges.
Contrary to Hishamuddin’s implied claim of success in the Lahad Datu incident, Mohamed Arshad claimed that many veterans and senior officers still in service consider it an “ignominious failure”.
“The problem was with ministers and civilians trying to behave as commanders that they foolishly assumed they were,” he added.
The retired brigadier-general pointed out that since the incursion, there have been seven kidnap-for-ransom incidents and this was indicative of red marks on the report card on Sabah's security.
'Hotbeds' for crime
The Patriots president also said illegal immigrants continued to be a security threat to Sabah and there seemed to be no political will to move forward on this.
“Patriot suggests starting a documentation process for all immigrants, including those who hold an IC.
“We suggest permanent residence status be given to those who have stayed more than two decades and without a criminal record. All other illegal immigrants are to be deported,” he added.
Mohamed Arshad said the water villages along the east coast of Sabah were “hotbeds” for crime and smuggling activities and covert intelligence activities needed to be stepped up.
“A feedback mechanism on the movement of strangers needs to be in place as eyes and ears in the Esszone. Allocation to purchase more naval patrol crafts, establishing more forward bases and more exercises to involve our quick reaction forces, is necessary,” he added.
The Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom) and the East Sabah Security Zone (Esszone) were set up by the government to enhance and maintain security in Sabah following the 2013 Lahad Datu incursion which saw Philippine-based militants invading the area.
Mohamed Arshad also said that the association “has nothing personal against Hishammuddin”.
“Our constructive criticism is done in good faith with the intention to help put things right, to help build a better nation,” he added.
The retired army man was referring to a recent tiff between the minister and the association when the former said the latter's criticisms over the National Service (NS) programme were “baseless”.