Sulu, Philippines, 16 April 2016: The Malaysian government must "immediately reopen" its borders in Sabah to travelers and commercial traders from southern Philippines, according to International Alert's partner Lupah Sug Bangsamoro Women Association Inc. The association also called on the Philippine government to engage in dialogue with Malaysia and "take collaborative and nuanced actions to address security and economic issues in its shared borders".
The Malaysian government closed its Sabah border this week to protest the recent kidnapping by the Abu Sayyaf militant group of four Malaysian nationals from a ship off the east coast of Sabah, heading for Philippine waters. The association has warned that closing the border will lead to hunger.
In a media statement released today, the association said that curbing criminal activity in the cross-border area that separates Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines is "not achieved by unilateral action, but requires joint policing, targeted punitive action, and the uniform application of laws against deadly shadow economies such as piracy and kidnap-for-ransom that plague these porous frontiers".
Communities in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi already feel the brunt of the blockade, with food and petroleum prices rising by as much as 70%. "This has deep economic and social repercussions to the already strained conditions in Mindanao brought about by the drought and the energy crisis," the statement said.
"Worse, the competition over local and more expensive resources will have ominous implications to existing grievances and conflict dynamics in the Sabah–Sulu corridor," it added.
The women’s group noted that Malaysia’s decision to close its border is "arbitrary, counter-productive, and will not bring about a long-term solution to the problem of criminal terrorism that Malaysia and the Philippines both face".
It said the border closure "punishes legitimate businessmen, traders, including tourists and relatives of families living in Sabah who had no hand in the kidnapping, and are in fact victimised by the same piracy and other threats to their lives and livelihoods".
Although acknowledging the closure is only a temporary response, the women’s group said it "unduly strains the fraternal and friendly relations between our countries – a solidarity nurtured too by the positive interaction and engagement between small traders, especially women, who possess strong ties of friendship with their Malaysian counterparts".
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About the Lupah Sug Bangsamoro Women Association Inc.:
The Lupah Sug Bangsamoro Women Association Inc. is a group of women engaged in peacebuilding, and is one of International Alert's partners engaged in a project that seeks to mitigate violent conflict in shadow economies in Mindanao, the second largest and southernmost island in the Philippines. The project specifically focuses on cross-border trade, informal land markets and firearms. Find our more about this project here.
About International Alert in the Philippines
In the Philippines, we help to lay the foundations for locally-owned, inclusive and sustainable peace and development. We work with businesses, indigenous peoples and governments to help communities shape and benefit from economic development. We have pioneered a conflict incident monitoring system to understand the causes and costs of conflict. We research the impact that ‘shadow economies', like the trafficking of drugs, guns and people, have on conflict and development. We also support the peace negotiations between the government and rebel forces. Find out more about our work in the Philippines at: www.international-alert.org/philippines