Kuala Lumpur – One doesn’t usually associate Malaysia, one of Southeast Asia’s most stable countries, with travel advisories. As such, when Australia issued a warning of possible terrorist plots to kidnap Westerners in the Malaysian state of Sabah, the Malaysians could be forgiven for thinking that the Australians had overreacted.
In an updated travel advisory on its website, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs urged travellers to "avoid all travel to coastal resorts, islands and dive sites" off the east coast of Malaysia's Sabah state on the island of Borneo.
The advisory said the Australian government had received "credible reports" that terrorists were planning kidnapping attacks against foreigners. It also warned Australians in Malaysia to "exercise a high degree of caution" due to the risk of terrorist attacks against Western interests.
On June 25, the United States also issued a similar warning to its citizens travelling to Malaysia.
Mr Syed Hamid said if Australia had any information about such threats, it should inform the Malaysian authorities instead of going public. Putting out a public advisory will make investigations difficult if the threat was indeed true.
"They thought there may be attempts on kidnappings. When you think there is some security threat and the relationship between the two countries are good, you must not create a scare campaign or send a wrong signal," he added.
Despite the Foreign Minister’s misgivings, Sabah Police Commissioner Mangsor Ismail said the police are not taking any chances. Additional police personnel had been deployed in various strategic locations, especially in the east coast, to beef up security there, he added.
Kidnappers have struck several times in Sabah, which is a short boat ride from the southern Philippine bases of Muslim separatists and the Al-Qaeda-linked Muslim extremist group Abu Sayyaf.
In 2000, Abu Sayyaf guerrillas seized 21 people, including Western tourists, from a diving resort on Sabah's Sipadan island. The hostages were later freed in exchange for large ransoms, reportedly financed by Libya.
* Malaysia not told prior to Aussie travel advice (The Star, June 25)
* Syed Hamid says Australia acted improperly (Bernama, June 23)
* Police not taking chances with Australia’s warning of kidnap plots (Bernama, June 23)