If security forces given free hand to deal with Sulu gunmen as militants, Sabah Sulu crisis would have ended faster and without loss of lives of eight police personnel

Thirty days after the invasion of the east coast of Sabah by a ragtag group of armed militants and terrorists, resulting in the death of eight police personnel in Lahad Datu and Semporna some three weeks later accompanied by the most gruesome, barbaric and savage mutilation of some of the police personnel who were still alive, including finger-chopping, eye-ripping and beheading, the Sabah Chief Minister Datuk Musa, who is also the chairman of the Sabah Security Committee, suddenly realized that the ragtag group of Sulu killers were not “intruders” but “terrorists”!

From yesterday, the media were directed by Musa to stop using the term “intruder” and to use “terrorist” instead.

But what is very strange is that it is not just the media who are guilty of the misnomer, all the top guns in government from political to security leadership, from the three Ministers who drop in and out of Sabah during the duration of the crisis, namely Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein, Defence Minister Zahid Hamidi and Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, to the security chiefs including the Inspector-General of Police Ismail Omar and the Armed Forces Chief Gen Zulkifeli Mohd Zin were all guilty for more than four weeks in using the misnomer.

Even the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak when he finally visited Lahad Datuk on March 7, some 26 days after the first landing of Sulu terrorists on Feb. 9, also continued to talk about “intruders” instead of “terrorists” – betraying a serious problem of mindset of those responsible for managing the Sabah Sulu crisis.

There will be many unforgettable photographs preserving for posterity some the bloody and gruesome vignettes from the hitherto 30-day Sabah Sulu crisis. Among these unforgettable pics will be one showing the Home Minister in his first visit to Lahad Datuk on Feb. 18, peering at Kampong Tanduo through his powerful binoculars to survey the armed Sulu group and declaring that although the group was armed, they were “neither militants nor terrorists”.

A most shocking misjudgment costing human lives and colouring the mindset of the top political and security leadership when even at that time, it was already known that the Sulu armed group was dangerous as they were wielding M16, M14 and Baby Armalite assault weapons and M203 grenade launchers.

I have no doubt if the top security forces had been allowed a free hand to deal with the Sulu armed invasion, recognizing them from the start as “militants” instead of having to put up with the political leadership’s categorization branding them as “intruders - neither militants nor terrorists”, the eight police national heroes who were killed in Lahad Datu and Semporna would still be alive today and the Sabah Sulu crisis would have ended swiftly, surgically and even peacefully, instead of being dragged out for a month , involving protracted negotiations, stand-offs and shoot-outs, with no end yet in sight, and with such a heavy cost in human lives among the security forces.

Can Malaysians and the government learn from the expensive lessons in the failures in leadership and crisis management resulting in grave costs to human lives and people’s sufferings in the Sabah Sulu crisis?

Quite unlikely, when we remember another famous saying of another member of Najib’s Cabinet, this time Datuk Seri Ng Yen Yen, the Tourism Minister – who said that Sabah is still safe for tourists when the Sabah tourism industry is suffering badly from the Sabah Sulu crisis!

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Ipoh Timur