Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Indonesian authorities are on high alert, concerned by the escalation of violence in the Malaysian province of Sabah, in the northern part of the island of Borneo. Jakarta has stepped up security levels and strengthened border controls in the area of East Borneo. Since 4 February at least 200 Filipino militants belonging to the "Royal Army of the Sultanate of Sulu" are holed up in the town of Sabah and fighting against the military sent from Kuala Lumpur.
Mediation efforts by Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Philippine President Aquino Benin have proved pointless, who in recent weeks have repeatedly urged the Islamist rebels led by Jamalul Kiram, "the Sultan of Sulu," to abandon their weapons. Yesterday the Malaysian army launched a heavy air raid, ahead of a ground offensive, in contrast, the militia announced that they are ready to do battle "to the death".
The authorities in Jakarta have focused attention on Nunukan regency in the province of East Borneo, an important commercial and tourist hub between Indonesia and Malaysia. At the same time the area is a recruitment center and hub for Filipino Muslim extremist groups who illegally enter Indonesian territory to trade in weapons or other objects through illegal "channels".
East Borneo police chief Gen. Anas Yusuf, stresses that it is in place, "a coordinated operation between the parties" is in place to "minimize" any notion of "danger along the border" as much as possible. In particular, attention is being focused on the islands of Sebatik and Seimenggaris, a strategic center used by Islamists in Mindanao to provide aid and logistics to Filipino militants in Sabah.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports that hundreds of workers in oil palm plantations in Sabah were evacuated for fear that they could be caught up in the ongoing conflict.