Protecting our borders

NST Editorial

Border criminals are getting serious and so should we

SMUGGLING is big business. If there   ever was any doubt of that, the shooting of an army border patrolman mending a hole in the fence along a smuggler’s route last Saturday  and revelations that 20 out of 27 border surveillance cameras along the Perlis-Kedah stretch have been deliberately knocked out, ought to be a clear indication of how high the stakes are. Weapons, drugs, wildlife, humans,  whatever is in demand is deliverable and anyone who gets in the way had better watch out. With the escalation of shooting incidents in the country, aided by what is believed to be a lucrative gun-running industry, Malaysia should be asking itself: are we doing enough to protect our borders?

The United States Border Patrol, for instance, started out in 1924 as a means to keep out illegal immigrants, but has grown to cover the smuggling of arms, drugs and currency, and its priority mission now is “to prevent terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States”. Its investment in tactical infrastructure, intelligence and patrols bears rich harvest. Last year, it apprehended 364,768 people and seized 1,043  tonnes of marijuana in 14,396 seizures.

Over the years in Malaysia, there have been numerous reported cases of organised groups of poachers from neighbouring countries, coming in on social visit passes, and going into our protected forest reserves to harvest various endangered flora and fauna. Arrests by the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan)   in the reserves and near the border have turned up poachers armed with machetes, axes and  guns. Some of these guns were home made, some were powerful enough to fell an adult elephant  and many were of a higher calibre than that carried by rangers, whose sorry job it is to apprehend these criminals. Whether it be pangolins, tigers, agarwood, weapons, drugs  or humans, and as long as it is illegal, these people will be armed.   In 2009,   then Terengganu Perhilitan director Rozidan Md Yassin said: “For villagers living on the fringes of the jungle, coming across illegal poachers from neighbouring countries with high-calibre weaponry, including M16s, is not an unusual occurrence.”

Where are these weapons coming from?  It is just as well that there are now plans to build a concrete wall along parts of the Malaysia-Thai border, for chain link fences are hardly a deterrent. Ideally, the entire 96km stretch from Perlis to Kelantan should be walled up. In any case, the real battle in securing our borders rests with stepping up enforcement and alertness at border crossings, increasing Customs intelligence, and making sure that there are no   “holes”  at checkpoints. As an up-and-coming transit country for various contraband, Malaysia should waste no time in evolving with the challenges.