SANDAKAN, Malaysia - The latest abduction of two Malaysians by Filipino gunmen at a popular restaurant has made Sabahans feel very vulnerable as it occurred hardly 3km from the high- profile security presence in the east coast under the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom).
The bold kidnapping of Ocean King Seafood Restaurant co-owner Thien Nyuk Fun and a customer, Bernard Then Ted Fen late on Thursday was the first such crime on the mainland. Previous kidnappings had occurred on remote islands or shoals in Lahad Datu and Semporna.
Former Sabah deputy chief minister Datuk Tham Nyip Shen said the raid at the popular eatery patronised by top politicians, senior government servants and police officers had struck a raw nerve among the people and made them fearful as it was too close for comfort.
"It's very bad. People feel vulnerable. The gunmen entered the bay and got away. It is a blow for not only tourism but also for coastal people and businesses," he said.
Tham, a former Sandakan assemblyman, said that the inability to protect Sandakan Bay was worrying to people in the east coast of Sabah despite the curfew imposed and the presence of Esscom.
"More needs to be done. It is hard for people to reconcile with the fact that cross border criminals are continuing to come in and we are unable to defend ourselves," he added.
Businessman Datuk Chew Kok Woh said the abduction made Sandakan folk feel very insecure about their safety.
"The feeling now is that these gunmen can strike anytime and anywhere as long as it's near the sea," said Chew, an MCA Central Committee member and the party's Batu Sapi division chief.
He said businesses along the Sandakan shore would be hit hard.
Chew said the location of the restaurant in Pasir Putih was such that the gunmen would have had to pass by a Marine Police and a naval station to get there but it appeared that they were daring enough to do it.
"If they can strike at the mainland, outlying islands such as the Selingan sanctuary and the Lankayan diving haven could be easy targets," he added.