Saturday, May 16, 2009

Smugglers Thriving At Sungai Golok

By Mohd Razman Abdullah


NARATHIWAT, May 13 (Bernama) - For more than 50 years, illegal jetties have sprouted along Sungai Golok, the river that acts as the common border for Kelantan on the Malaysian side and Narathiwat in Thailand.

These illegal jetties have served as the 'diplomatic bridge' between the people on both sides of the common border as many of them have blood ties with those on the other side of the divide.

But the jetties are also notoriously known as the staging points for smuggling activities.

A trader at the Thai border town of Sungai Kolok, 51-year-old Seman Abdullah said there are several popular illegal jetties along Sungai Golok.

(The Thai town is known as Sungai Kolok while the river that demarcates the Malaysia-Thai common border is known as Sungai Golok).

"Each of these illegal jetties is named after the individual who resides closest to the place or something else that can be used as a landmark," he told Bernama here recently.

SMUGGLERS' HAVEN

"One of the illegal jetties popular among the smugglers is the Syed Agil jetty as Syed Agil's house is located nearby," he said.

Another well-known jetty is the MCA jetty where a MCA party office used to be located nearby.

Seman said the other jetties that are used by the smugglers and residents alike are known as Pohon Jambu, Gergaji, Pohon Buluh, and Pauh jetties.

One of the reasons that smuggling is difficult to be suppressed along this common border is due to the presence of these illegal jetties.

POROUS BORDER

"However these jetties are the link between families and relatives staying on both sides of the river," he said.

The 95km-long Sungai Golok is very narrow, and at many locations along the snaking river, the banks on the opposite sides are mere metres apart.

During the dry spell, people can simply wade across the river. During the other days, one can use a boat or swim across and this takes only a few minutes. Furthermore, the secondary jungle-lined riverbanks make smuggling activities easy.

For many residents along this river, farming and retail trading is their livelihood. However many are involved in the smuggling activities as the extra pocket money earned is considered 'lucrative'.

Many also are in the opinion that without this 'contraband' work, the economy at this part of the border would be paralysed.

ARMY OF ANTS

Many among the Malaysians and Thais who stay along this river work as the 'army of ants' helping to move the contraband at the illegal jetties. The contraband can be either goods or livestock and even humans.

Among the high in demand goods are garments, sugar, rice, cooking oil, wheat flour, firecrackers and fireworks, drugs, gasoline and livestock.

Along the river's stretch from Pengkalan Kubor in Tumpat until the town of Rantau Panjang, there are some 130 illegal jetties that are frequently used for smuggling.

A Bernama check revealed that these jetties are not actually jetties according to the dictionary meaning.

A cruise along Sungai Golok found these jetties to be in appalling condition. Not only they are in a ramshackle state with planks that are rotting and about to disintegrate into pieces, some do not even to qualify to be named a jetty at all as there are no structures that make up a jetty are visible.

What can be seen are only the bushes and secondary jungles that lined the riverbanks.

RIVER FACTOR

General Operations force (PGA) Southeast brigade Commander Datuk Abdul Rahim Jaafar admitted that the river factor is among the hurdles that impede efforts to clamp down on smuggling activities along this stretch of the common border.

He said the contraband is easily moved and stored in houses located close to Sungai Golok.

"The smugglers use a gutter or trough-like structure and slide the goods like sugar bags and cooking oil packs right into a waiting boat in the river.

"The PGA is powerless to act as the river is considered international waters, despite being only several metres wide," he told Bernama.

Under 'Ops Wawasan' the PGA is tasked to keep watch over the 29.9 km stretch of the Malaysia-Thai border from Pengkalan Kubor in Tumpat until Rantau Panjang in Pasir Mas.

PGA has 16 security posts at strategic locations and seven checkpoints to stem the tide of the smugglers.

-- BERNAMA

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