As time runs out, families of Sandakan kidnap victims turn to Putrajaya for help

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(1stL)Chun Ching Leng and Chan Wai See pose with holding their relative photos Thien and Bernard during interview in Damansara,Selangor on July 2,2015.-The Malaysian Insider pic by Seth Akmal.

It has been 50 days since Thien Nyuk Fun, 51, and Bernard Ghen Ted Fen, 39, were kidnapped from a seafood restaurant in Sandakan by Filipino gunmen.Their families are now appealing to Putrajaya for help, having exhausted all available options.Both victims were snatched from the restaurant at gunpoint on May 14 and are now believed to be held on an island in southern Philippines.

The kidnappers are calling the families at least once a week, demanding a ransom for the release of the two but their families are unable to meet their demands and are growing increasingly concerned about the health of the duo, especially Thien.”She has high blood pressure and she hasn’t taken medication since she was kidnapped,” her eldest son, Chung Chin Lung, told The Malaysian Insider yesterday.Thien was also manager of the seafood restaurant where the incident took place.

Looking similarly downcast was Chan Wai See, the wife of Ghen.Ghen is an engineer working in Cambodia and was on holidays when he was kidnapped on May 14.”It is difficult to talk to the kidnappers every week. It’s difficult to communicate with them,” Chan said. The couple have no children.The family have no complaints about the efforts the authorities in Sabah are taking to resolve the issue, but they are looking towards Putrajaya and even the Sarawak chief minister to find a quicker resolution.

Ghen and his family are from Kuching, Sarawak, and thus, Sarawak Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem is among those to whom they are appealing.”We hope they will resolve the matter as soon as possible. Even a day is a long wait,” she said.The families are also seeking respite from the kidnappers, in keeping with the spirit of Ramadan.”Being the holy month of Ramadan, we hope they will show some compassion. They have families, too, and we hope they can understand,” she added.

The kidnapping of Bernard and Thien is only one in a long list of similar incidents which had taken place in the east coast of Sabah recently.Last year, a police officer was killed and another was kidnapped in a resort off Semporna.In June last year, a Malaysian fish breeder and a Filipino employee were abducted at their fish farm.In April 2014, a Chinese tourist and Filipino resort worker were kidnapped from a Semporna resort.In November 2013, a Taiwanese man was killed and his wife abducted.

In all those incidents, the victims were eventually rescued.However, there have been claims that the government settled the ransom to secure some of their releases, though this has been denied.The spate of kidnappings had affected tourism in Sabah, and the kidnapping of the Chinese and Taiwanese tourists led to a decline in tourists from the two nations.Following the intrusion of Sulu gunmen into Lahad Datu, Sabah, in February 2013, the government established the Eastern Sabah Security Command (Esscom), a security area that covers 1,400 km of the east coast of Sabah from Kudat to Tawau.

Its purpose is to strengthen maritime security in the eastern part of Sabah and prevent terrorist activities in the waters off Sabah, while at the same time ensuring that trade and business activities are not affected.Esscom, however, has come under criticism for being ineffective in curbing the kidnappings.The kidnappings led to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak announcing the restructuring of Esscom in July 2014, focusing on security and defence management, with another sector focusing on public action and enforcement.

The kidnapping of Thien and Ghen is the first such incident since Esscom was restructured. – July 3, 2015.

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