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1st Sulu Sulawesi Sea (SSS) Conference 2015

1st Sulu Sulawesi Sea (SSS) Conference 2015

KESBAN at Sea: Exploring Opportunities for Holistic Security in ESSZONE


Malaysia is divided into two land real estates and three major maritime real estates. The Peninsula and Sabah/Sarawak is surrounded by important waterways Straits of Malacca, South China Sea and the Sulu Sulawesi Seas. Between the three maritime real estates, the Sulu Sulawesi Sea has been Malaysia’s epicenter for security concerns affecting Sabah especially on issues of traditional and non-traditional security.  Due to the proximity in a tri-border area, this maritime real estate has been inundated with destructive fishing and smuggling activities for generations. In 1985, the town of Lahad Datu was attacked by seaborne terrorist from the Southern Philippines, killing at least 21 people and injuring 11 others. In May 2000, terrorists from southern Philippines strike again, this time on the resort island of Padanan and Sipadan and kidnapped 21 people consisting of tourists and resort workers for ransom.  Most hostages were rescued on September 2000 following an offensive by the Philippine army. 

In response to the incident, the government formed OPS PASIR (Operation Pandanan and Sipadan Island Resort). The Malaysian Armed Forces was deployed to conduct special security operations to secure the eastern frontier of Sabah to ensure the safety of the affected areas.  Besides regular patrols, to further enhance surveillance and detection, coastal surveillance radar was installed to strengthen the operational concept. However, in spite of tight security, in late February 2013, several terrorists from southern Philippines attacked from the eastern frontier to assert territorial claims to Sabah as part of the historical North Borneo dispute.  Despite negotiations, a standoff escalated into an armed conflict resulting in the death of 68 of the terrorists with the remaining captured by Malaysian security forces. The Malaysian security forces also lost 10 lives including two other civilians in the incident.

In response to this incident, another security structure was formed, the Eastern Sabah Security Command or ESSCOM established on 7 March 2013. ESSCOM became the security enforcement agency which oversees the Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZONE) in protecting the sovereignty and strengthening security in the east cost of the state. ESSCOM, administratives and governing office in Lahad Datu was established under the Preservation of Public Security Regulations 2013 (Malay: Peraturan-Peraturan Pemeliharaan Keselamatan Awam 2013) promulgated by the Home Ministry.

Eastern Sabah Security Zone (ESSZONE) was launched in 25 March 2013 covering 10 districts of the east coast of Sabah namely, Kudat, Kota Marudu, Pitas, Beluran, Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau, which in total covering approximately 1773.7 square kilometre of the said area.  ESSZONE is headed by Sabah Chief Minister and assisted by a chief executive officer who will be a member of the public and be responsible for coordinating and safeguarding the functions and activities of the security forces and government departments and agencies in implementing all initiatives in ESSZONE. Since the launch of a new security structure, there have been four kidnappings and at least two failed attempts in the general area of East Sabah. 

The incidents in the Sulu Sulawesi Sea area are not only an embarrassment to the country and the security forces; there has been a tremendous cost to the State of Sabah as it affected the economy of the land and maritime real estates. Key economic pillars being tourism, trade and reef products have been severely affected. Cost to Government of Malaysia was apparent when mobilizing threat response with large number of security assets.

THE LESSONS: When an area is continuously under threat, especially where sovereignty is concerned, it rekindled a period long forgotten by Malaysians. The threat to sovereignty ended on 2 December 1989 following a peace agreement signed between the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), the Malaysian government and Thai military commanders at Ha’adyai in southern Thailand. Prior to that, CPM waged an all-out war against the nation where an Emergency was declared to counter the threat. The insurgents declared their immediate objectives were to disrupt the economy and to establish ‘liberated’ areas, and their insurrection was aimed at the overthrow of an oppressive British colonialism and to achieve freedom and national independence for the people of Malaya. The campaign by the CPM was from 1948 – 1960 where British and Commonwealth forces finally succeeded in defeating the communists.  Then again in the period from 1970-1973, Malaysia faced another insurgency problem in Sarawak. This time it was the North Kalimantan Communist Party (NKCP). The lessons learnt from the Emergency focusing on holistic security led largely to the success of the government in winning over the communities from the insurgents. The Malaysian way of tackling insurgency was touted as the model for many security operations in the world.

Threats to sovereignty, wellbeing of society, the environment and economy are in general is a test to the government to its fullest capacity and capability. To succeed, the government must bring to bear all the elements of national power (political, military, social and economy) in a coordinated campaign. The absence of such coordination can result in a lack of clear authority, inadequate intel­ligence analysis, poorly integrated efforts by civilian agencies, and military operations that fail to achieve their desired effect. Malaysia has proven methods from the past which are being emulated by the United Nations under the Security Sector Reforms (SSR) programs whilst the Philippines has embarked on similar programs to address the long standing conflict in Mindanao.

THE REGIONAL INITIATIVES: The Philippines, after four decades of civil war, decided to embark on Sajahtera-Bangsamoro plan which saw the government, non-governmental organizations, industry  and community come together to provide education, health, child welfare and economic opportunities to the Moro’s while the Government progressed on Peace Talks. The programed managed to bring together the community in conflict to work together for a better future for their future generations and laid the foundations for a progressive peace effort.

Based on these Best Practices for holistic security, the Maritime Institute of Malaysia (MIMA) and University Malaysia Sabah are jointly organizing the 1st Sulu-Sulawesi Sea conference. This Conference is supported by Majlis Keselamatan Negara (Sabah). The main features of this Conference is to address the threats in the Sulu Sulawesi Sea, be it against sovereignty, economy, community or the environment in a more holistic way taking into consideration the complex demography and topography of the area. The aim is to win the hearts and minds of the coastal community by identifying sustainable development activities which can generate economy, safeguard the environment and bring about the well-being of the coastal community which were central to the success in Peninsula and Sarawak. Though the threat was dissimilar, the similarity in gaining the support of the population will be the key to enduring security.

The two day Conference is restricted to Malaysians only and will be a town hall gathering of experts in the field of economy, environment, socio-politics and defense-security. A panel discussion will be held on the second day to harmonize the findings and carve the way ahead towards a series of workshops to create blueprints in each defined sector. Blueprints will be merged to develop a Balanced Scorecard to address issues holistically thus providing economic opportunities whilst addressing management of scarce resources and duplication of efforts.


  1. Examine the effectiveness of KESBAN on past counter terrorists programmes.
  2. Elaborate on the need to address soft security issues to complement hard security.
  3. Identify Public-Private partnerships in providing sustainable development for coastal communities and create economic opportunities for the region whilst addressing management of scarce resources and duplication of efforts.
  4. Recommend action plans for the State of Sabah with a view to provide a holistic, comprehensive and integrated approach towards enduring security as the way ahead.


Presentations at 1st Sulu Sulawesi Sea (SSS) Conference 2015 KESBAN at Sea: Exploring Opportunities for Holistic Security in ESSZONE

Session 1 - Countering Threats to State Security 

Paper 1: The Malayan Emergency - KESBAN at Work - Dato' Sr. Leong Chee Woh

Paper 2: Security Sector Reforms as Post Conflict Rebuilding Measures - Capt. Martin A. Sebastian RMN (R)

Paper 3: MIMA Experience in Shipping Master Plan - Managing Large Scale Projects - Datin Sharina Shaukat

Session 2 - Economic Opportunities in the ESSZONE

Paper 1: Migrant and Economic Opportunities in Sabah - Mr. Wan Shawaluddin Wan Hassan

Paper 2: Barter Trading-Centuries of Trade - Mr. Ramli Dollah

Paper 3: BIMP-EAGA: Opportunities and Challenges - Prof. Dr. Jennifer Chan Kim Lian

Session 3 - Safeguarding Reef Community in ESSZONE

Paper 1: Addressing Resources and Environmental Management for Sustaianble Livehoods - Ms. Masrizalin Bakri

Paper 2: Coral Triangle Initiatives on Coral Reefs and Fisheries - Capt. Zaharuddin Mohd Maideen

Session 4 - Addressing Socio-Political Diversity

Paper 1: Highlanders and Islanders - The uniqueness of Sabah - Datuk Dr. Mokhtar Yassin b. Ajam

Paper 2: Coastal Communities as national assets in the ESSZONE - Prof. Dr. Rashid Mail

Paper 3: Food Security in Sabah - Prof. Dr. Sharifudin Md. Shaarani

Paper 4: Migrant Labour in Sabah

Session 5 - Defence and Security- The Whole of Nation (WoN) approach to win against threats

Paper 1: ESSCOM- Defending the ESSZONE - DCP Dato' Dr. Abd. Rashid bin harun

Paper 2: Civil-Security Cooperation - Dr. Zaini Othman