Thursday, September 28, 2006

No new US travel advisory for Sabah and Malaysia

Kota Kinabalu: The United States Government has not issued any new travel advisory especially for Sabah since last year and, instead, encourages its citizens to visit the State.

US Ambassador to Malaysia Christopher J. LaFleur said as far as the embassy was concerned they saw no problems encouraging Americans travelling to most parts of Sabah.

He was asked to comment on the status of a travel advisory issued by the US Government in the past urging its citizens to avoid visiting the eastern side of Sabah.

"It was only some coastal areas where from time to time we still get reports that people have become the targets of terrorists," he said after presenting a mock-cheque from the Ambassador's Cultural Preservation Fund worth RM63,000 to the Kadazandusun Language Foundation (KLF) at Magellan Sutera, Tuesday.

Member of KLF Board of Trustees, Philip Benedict Lasimbang, received the mock-cheque on behalf of the foundation. Also present was KLF Chief Executive Officer, Rita Lasimbang.

LaFleur said his government was monitoring the situation very carefully but noted that the Malaysian Government had made great effort to provide or enhance security in the area. Although there was still some concern about the coastal areas in eastern Sabah, he assured that "Éwe don't have a separate travel advisory just for Sabah.

"I can say that we do encourage Americans to come here (Sabah)Éit's a great place and I've been thrilled with what I have seen here, whether in Kota Kinabalu or over at the eastern side at Danum Valley," he said.

Americans, he said, would surely enjoy visiting Sabah adding that the State has wonderful places to visit.

LaFleur was also hopeful that eventually the US Government would be able to encourage its citizens to travel wherever they want in Sabah.

The US Department of State in its website said there were still indication of threats of kidnappings in eastern Sabah's coastal areas and offshore islands. It said the terrorist Abu Sayyaf Group based in the southern Philippines has been responsible for the kidnapping incidents.

However, US Embassy Press Atache' to Malaysia, Kathryn Taylor said the US travel warning has already dropped Malaysia from its list some time ago. She said all that remains about travelling in Sabah is what exist in the website.

Meanwhile, the US will continue to cooperate with the three Borneo states of Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia on the "Heart of Borneo" project to preserve one of the oldest rainforests in the world.

LaFleur said the 220,000 square km rainforest spread across the three countries is important to the entire world because it is one of the very few that remain in pristine form.

He said that according to scientific estimates, it is older than the rainforest in the Amazon, South America.

The three Borneo states are also very important in Southeast Asia as key members of Asean and good friends of the US, he told reporters while visiting the Kota Kinabalu Wetlands Centre. Last month, US State Secretary Condoleeza Rice pledged US$100,000 (RM367,000) to support "Heart of Borneo" through the project initiator WWF Malaysia.

LaFleur said the US government had also contributed about US$217,000 in financial aid for the protection of elephants, gibbons, orang utan and rhinoceros in Sabah since 2005.

WWF Malaysia Vice President Tengku Datuk Seri Zainal Adlin Tengku Mahmood, who accompanied LaFleur on the visit, said Heart of Borneo is meant for the world and the commitment of the US is significant to the organisation.

However, he said, WWF Malaysia only acted as the catalyst and it was still up to the individual government to best manage forest sustainability in their own area. He said Heart of Borneo had not been officially accepted yet by the governments of the three countries.

Hopefully, the three countries would reach a consensus to launch the project during the Asean Summit in the Philippines this December, he added.

Source: Daily Express

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