May 23, 2003

Malaysia warns envoys against terror paranoia

Syed Hamid. AP file photo
PUTRAJAYA, Malaysia (AFP) - Malaysia on Thursday urged foreign envoys not to be paranoid as it sought to refute renewed warnings by the US and other western countries of possible terrorist attacks here.
Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said advisories warning against travel to Malaysia were "unjustifiable" given the absence of credible evidence to back the terror alerts.
"We deeply regret the issuance of such travel advisories because it does not reflect, in our view, the genuine security situation in Malaysia nor the reality on the ground here," he told some 50 top diplomats.
"We consider it unjustifiable to lump Malaysia together with some other countries as possible sites of terrorist attacks merely by generalisation and we don't find any genuine or credible evidence to that fact."
The US advisory, an extension of a previous statement issued in November, urged its citizens to "exercise extreme caution" in Malaysia especially in Sabah state, where members of the banned Jemaah Islamiyah group, linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, have been active.
Australia, Britain, Germany and other countries have similarly warned their citizens to exercise caution in travelling to Malaysia.
Syed Hamid said such "baseless fears and perceived terrorist attacks" on the country had caused considerable damage and eroded public confidence in Malaysia's security.
He pointed out that Malaysia was "virtually free of any incidence of violence and terrorism," with no foreign firms or properties ever having been targeted in acts of violence or vandalism.
The safety of Malaysians and foreigners remains the government's "top priority" and all preventive and preemptive measures to counter terrorism have been taken, he stressed.
Syed Hamid urged the envoys to check facts with the government first before issuing any advisories "instead of falling into the trap of paranoia and unjustified fear."
US ambassador Marie Huhtala told reporters that the briefing was "very helpful but we still have concerns and we are constantly reevaluating the situation."
The fact that foreigners were kidnapped from an island off Sabah state by the Filipino Muslim Abu Sayyaf rebels in 2000 called for a "very thorough look at protections that are in place," she added.
But Syed Hamid noted that the Sabah kidnapping was aimed at getting ransom money and was not a case of terrorism.
Maritime and air patrols in Sabah state on Borneo island have been beefed up and the Abu Sayyaf rebels are no longer a threat, he told reporters after a closed-door dialogue with the envoys.
Malaysia is sandwiched between Indonesia which is fighting separatist rebels in Aceh province and the Philippines which has its own rebel groups.
But, said Syed Hamid, no groups will be allowed to seek refuge in Malaysia.
"We have got various layers of security protection. There is no spillover effect into Malaysia. We will not give refuge to anyone trying to escape conflicts," he added.