‘Ops Daulat’ – Vilagers fear of retribution from Sulu terrorists

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Lahad Datu StandoffLAHAD DATU  –  Those living from Tawau to here are afraid the Sulu terrorists will return to exact revenge on them.

Indeed, the people of Felda Sahabat 17, here, were more concerned about that than the airstrikes and heavy bombings of terrorist positions yesterday.

Except for those living within four sq km of Kampung Tanduo, which is close to the strike zone, many people in 11 villages in the oil palm plantation continued with their routine.

A village security and development committee member from one of the villages said the assault on terrorist positions did not worry them too much but possible repercussions were a different thing.

It was for that reason he did not want to be named when approached by the road with a group of villagers who had fled their homes after the explosions this morning.

Business went on as usual in most parts of Felda Sahabat 17, twice the size of Singapore and occupied by people of various ethnic groups, including those who were glued to television sets in coffeeshops for updates on the bombardment.

Security forces were spread out in the scheme, which has 57 plantations. Those moving about in the area had to go through heavily guarded checkpoints.

Sabri Abdul Wau, 46, who was at work in a plantation, said he saw three jet fighters dive till the trees blocked his view, and reemerge seconds later before hearing explosions.

“That was when I ran out of the plantation.”

Another villager, Ramli Asrya, 42, said he was at home when he heard the explosions, which shook his wooden house.

In Kampung Sinakut, a coastal village 6km away from Kampung Tanduo, the explosions could be heard loud and clear but the noise did not seem to bother the people

The villagers, who are mostly from the the Pala’u tribe known as sea gypsies in Sabah, were seen cooking and carrying on with their lives.

In Tawau, a local Suluk resident in Kampung Batu Payung said Tausug foreigners had been entering their village since January under the pretext of holding religious talks.

A retiree, who wished to be known only as Kak Nang, said the men, who had come several times, claimed they were jemaah tabligh (Muslim religious volunteers) and had asked the villagers to attend their programmes at the mosque.

The coastal village has more than 2,000 residents, comprising mainly of local Suluks.

She said the villagers did not condone the Sulu terrorists’ actions but she could not say for sure whether their sentiment was shared by people living in the surrounding areas or villages.

“My late husband was a policeman, and most of the Suluks in our village have been or are serving in our security forces. It was hard hearing what had happened to the policemen who were killed.

“To tell the truth, us Suluks in our village feared for our safety as we live along the beach.

“What if the terrorists come back from the sea?”

Even worse, Kak Nang was afraid the retaliation would come from neighbouring villages, which are also Suluk-populated, if the foreign group succeeded in recruiting Suluks in Tawau for its cause.

She said one of the villagers saw three unknown men lingering in a hill near their village on Monday at 7pm.

However, as of yesterday afternoon, activities in her village had returned to normal.

The administrators of several schools have decided to shorten the school sessions since Monday.

SK Kinabutan, SMK Kinabutan and SK Batu Payung still end their morning sessions at 12.15pm and evening sessions at 4.30pm.  –  NST