First EU-Malaysia maritime counterterrorism training for security practitioners in Sabah, followed by EU Delegation visit to ESSCOM

KOTA KINABALU: A total of 35 experts took part in the first European Union (EU)-Malaysia maritime counterterrorism training seminar for security practitioners in Sabah.

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The two-day event was specifically designed for stakeholders operating in the Tri- Border Area between the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

A decade ago, over 200 militants from the Sulu islands landed on boats in Eastern Sabah to lay territorial claims, prompting a standoff that saw dozens lose their lives, including several Malaysian security personnel.

The area remains a flashpoint for regional security to this day.

Organised by the EU Delegation to Malaysia, the Southeast Asia Regional Centre for Counter-Terrorism (SEARCCT) and the EU project Enhancing Security Cooperation In and With Asia (ESIWA), the seminar convened experts from several Malaysian security agencies and their EU counterparts representing the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex), France, Hungary and Spain, among others.

The interactive gathering focussed on furthering EU-Malaysia collaboration in security and defence, safeguarding maritime interests, and equipping security practitioners with the necessary tools to counter evolving threats in the Tri-Border Area.

“As mentioned by EU High Representative & Vice-President Josep Borrell at the Shangri La Dialogue, June 2023, the EU intends not only to play a more important role as a smart enabler in the field of security and defence, but to be recognised as such, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region,” said Colonel Sylvain Louvet, Military Adviser at the EU Delegation to ASEAN, who addressed experts in Kota Kinabalu.

“The EU and its Member States have suffered many appalling terrorist attacks, particularly over the past 20 years.

“But during this time, our agencies and institutions have developed substantial experience and expertise in countering the immediate threats of terrorism, while further preventing violence through tailored programmes involving diverse stakeholders,” Col Louvet said.

“I am confident that these trainings will lead to a stronger collaboration of Malaysia and the EU in counterterrorism and preventing/countering violent extremism. Together, we can continue fighting terrorist threats across the globe,” he added.

Supt. Yong Thain Foh, Director, Planning & Training, SEARCCT, said: “This seminar serves as a crucial platform for addressing pressing security concerns pertinent to the region.

In the past decade, the escalation of violent extremism and non-state maritime threats in Sabah State and the Tri-Border Area has underscored the imperative for comprehensive and collaborative counterterrorism strategies.”

Topics covered during the training included specialized sessions on maritime domain awareness and unmanned aerial systems (UAS), where participants gained insights into cutting-edge technologies vital for augmenting maritime security capabilities.

The seminar was followed by an EU Delegation visit to the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) in Lahad Datu.

This joint command centre between the Malaysian Armed Forces, Royal Malaysia Police, and the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency was established in 2013 and oversees several coastal districts throughout the state. In 2017, Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines signed a trilateral cooperative agreement to jointly patrol the Sulu and Celebes Seas.

Having visited the command centre with a delegation of EU experts, Joanna Wasiewska, First Counsellor, EU Delegation to Malaysia, said: “ESSCOM has clearly done an excellent job at suppressing a range of threats. We are grateful for this opportunity afforded to EU practitioners to study firsthand the local security context and to allow for future collaboration and capacity building.”
DCP Datuk Victor B Sanjos, Commander, ESSCOM, said: “We welcome this opportunity to engage in peer-to-peer exchange with our EU counterparts.

Given the range of illicit activities, the history, and the mixture of criminal and ideological motivations involved, this maritime border region remains a national security priority for the foreseeable future.

Malaysia and the EU can learn from and support each other in building a stronger security collaboration.”

“In fact, we encourage and welcome visitors from the European Union to our most beautiful state of Sabah. Our Eastern Sabah Security Zone is safe and sound,” he added.

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