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03 December 2000 - Bernama

"Pasir Sandera" sends strong message to would-be raiders

By Mohd Haikal Isa

PULAU DANAWAN (SEMPORNA), Dec 3 (Bernama) -- The kidnappings committed by gunmen in two islands off the Sabah east coast this year have shown that small foreign groups with criminal intent can also pose a threat to national security.

The abductions in Pulau Sipadan on April 23 and Pulau Pandanan on Sept 10 proved that small groups armed with assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades could well breach the national security net in their small but powerful boats.

Following the incidents, the armed forces has been criticised by various quarters and its subsequent move to tighten security in the Sabah waters has been closely watched.

In line with efforts to beef up security, the armed forces recently held two drills on islands near southern Philippines based on a scenario resembling the Sipadan and Pandanan kidnappings.

Codenamed "Pasir Sandera Exercise I and II", the drills were carried out in Pulau Pandanan and Pulau Danawan with the participation of mostly special forces units of the military.

The exercises were conducted openly in the presence of the media, something rarely allowed by the armed forces for activities involving special forces.

This "openness" of the armed forces not only gave the people a chance to learn about the actions taken following the kidnappings but also served to send a strong message to any potential troublemakers.

Defence Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak, before leaving to visit operational areas of the first exercise in October, said: "The exercise is meant to be a show of force by the armed forces."

And following that, on Nov 30, the armed forces held the "Pasir Sandera Exercise II" on Pulau Danawan involving its special elements like the 10 Para Brigade of the Rapid Deployment Force (PAC) and 21 Special Forces Group (GGK).

These special forces units are almost certain to be deployed by the military in quick response to any recurrence of the Sipadan and Pandanan incidents.

The special forces personnel were flown in from bases in peninsular Malaysia as well as existing locations in Sabah.

The one-day exercise centred on a raid by 10 members of the International Terrorist Group (KPA) from a neighbouring country. The intruders, armed with M16 rifles and led by "Commander Jais", kidnapped seven local people.

Commander Jais and his gang members were fleeing a military assault back home and chose to seek refuge in Sabah as it was nearest to home.

As the KPA members took their hostages to Sekolah Kebangsaan Pulau Danawan, the armed forces swung into action to cordon off the island.

Troops were also mobilised to provide security cover for the estimated 500 residents of Pulau Danawan who are mostly fishermen.

At the same time, two unarmed military officers and the village head of Pulau Danawan were despatched to begin negotiations with the terrorists to coax them to surrender.

The gunmen refused to give up and instead demanded from the government US$1 million, a security guarantee and a helicopter. They gave the authorities three hours to fulfil their requests or they would begin to kill their captives.

"We will slaughter the hostages one by one," Commander Jais told the group of negotiators in the Bajau dialect as one of the captives acted as an interpreter.

Just as Commander Jais retreated into the school, a Nuri helicopter dropped the PAC on Pulau Danawan while commandos of the 21 GGK slipped into the island on rubber dinghies.

The commando squad immediately took up positions around the KPA's hideout.

Sensing something amiss, two terrorists tried to sneak out to assess the situation but were gunned down by snipers hiding behind coconut trees surrounding their hideout.

At this juncture, the well-armed commandos stormed the hideout in a lightning raid.

The one-minute dawn raid resulted in the killing of all the terrorists, including Commander Jais, and the freeing of the seven hostages.

The background to the Pasir Sandera exercise had some resemblance to the Philippine military's major offensive against the Abu Sayyaf group in Jolo island recently.

The Abu Sayyaf group led by Commander Robot and Mujib Susukan was responsible for the abduction of foreign tourists and resort workers in Sipadan.

Members of the group are also believed responsible for the Pandanan kidnapping, and in both cases the hostages were taken by boat to Jolo in southern Philippines.

Armed forces field commander Lt Jen Datuk Seri Zaini Mohd Said dismissed any suggestion that the scenario for the exercise meant that the military was preparing for a possible repeat of the Abu Sayyaf strike.

"We had conducted similiar exercises before but in peninsular Malaysia. Following the kidnappings, we decided to hold it here to expose soldiers to the local environment," he said.

Zaini said the armed forces had achieved 90 percent of the required capability since the government intensified security in the Sabah east coast waters.

"We are prepared for any eventuality, he said.

These words of Zaini amount to a clear message to criminal groups operating by sea, and hopefully would deter them from trying to launch another raid in Sabah waters.

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