- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 9, 2003

From combined dispatches

NUSA DUA, Indonesia — Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has pledged to tighten security and expand cooperation with neighboring countries after the kidnapping this week of six foreign workers at a Malaysian resort by gunmen in a speedboat.

He said he regrets the incident because it could affect Southeast Asia’s image as a safe region. “It indicates that we need to tighten our security, that there should be closer cooperation between neighboring countries,” he said at a news conference here on the island of Bali at the end of his last Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit.

Mr. Mahathir, who is in his final term in office, said he worries that foreigners will “think that if anything happens in one particular spot, the whole of Southeast Asia is an unsafe place.”

Three Indonesian and three Philippine workers were kidnapped late Sunday from the tiny riverside Borneo Paradise Resort in Sabah state by 10 armed raiders. Norian Mai, Malaysia’s police chief, said Wednesday that a guard at the resort had been detained and foreign involvement was suspected.

Although some of the kidnappers were wearing military fatigues and carried assault rifles, Malaysia ruled out the Philippine Muslim rebel group Abu Sayyaf, which has carried out similar raids in Sabah.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who attended the ASEAN summit, pledged her government’s help in tracking the gunmen.

The United States maintains a travel advisory that its citizens avoid visiting Sabah after the Abu Sayyaf kidnapped 21 persons, mostly Western tourists, from another resort there in April 2000. Some were killed and the rest were held for nearly a year before being released, reportedly in exchange for millions of dollars.

Five months after the raid, Abu Sayyaf took three Malaysians as hostages from the nearby resort island of Pandanan.

Meanwhile, Mr. Norian told Malaysia’s official Bernama news agency from Sabah: “We have decided not to rule out the involvement of outside parties. However, we are also confident that locals were behind it as well.”

He earlier discounted involvement of foreign criminals, citing the remoteness of the Borneo Paradise Resort. The resort along the Sabahan River is about 25 miles south of the nearest town, Lahad Datu, on the east coast, and more than 10 hours by water from the nearest maritime border with the southern Philippines.

Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported that no ransom demand had been made. It said major search operations were under way involving police, as well as Malaysia’s navy and air force.

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