Smugglers Kill Malaysian Officer in Shootout at Thai Border

Noah Lee, Nisha David and Mariyam Ahmad
Kuala Lumpur and Pattani, Thailand
2020-11-24
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201124-TH-MY-border-620.jpg Malaysian soldier Judin Awi points to a smuggling route near where a policeman was killed in a shootout with smugglers along the Thai border in northern Malaysia’s Perlis state, Nov. 24, 2020.
A. Ammarudin/BenarNews

A Malaysian border policeman was killed and another injured during a shootout with a group of suspected drug smugglers at the frontier with Thailand in northern Perlis state on Tuesday, Malaysia’s police chief said.

The two officers were on a reconnaissance mission when they came across the smugglers, Police Inspector-General Abdul Hamid Bador told reporters after he visited the scene of the shooting in Padang Besar in Perlis, more than 500 km (310 miles) from Kuala Lumpur.

Authorities identified the slain officer as Cpl. Baharuddin Ramli. His colleague, who underwent surgery after suffering gunshot wounds, was identified as Cpl. Norihan Tari.

“The officers had taken a motorcycle from their base to go to the border wall where they left the bike and continued on foot to conduct reconnaissance along the jungle trail. These officers were tasked with collecting intelligence and noting movements of smugglers, which they would then relay the information to the base for action,” the police chief said.

“However, about 400 meters from the road, they stumbled upon more than 10 men, and a gunbattle spontaneously erupted. The two officers were only armed with pistols, and the wounded Cpl. Baharuddin managed to retreat for only about four to five meters before he fell down.”

Baharuddin told Norihan to return to base and call for back up, the chief said.

“Cpl. Norihan, who was also wounded, ran back to their motorcycle and managed to ride back to a guard post at the borderline about 200 meters away and shout for help before he, too, collapsed,” Hamid told reporters at the federal police headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.

A team of police officers who rushed to the scene found Baharuddin suffering from gunshot wounds. His pistol, which had been emptied, lay at this side. The policeman died before he could be taken to a hospital.

Hamid praised Baharuddin and Norihan for excellent service records, and commended Baharuddin for his heroism during the firefight with the smugglers.

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Suspects in custody

After the early morning shooting, Malaysian and Thai authorities captured six suspects including three who were injured in the gunfight, police and army officials from both countries told BenarNews.

The Royal Thai Army arrested three suspects as they sought treatment for gunshots and other wounds at a private medical facility in Songkhla, a province in southern Thailand that borders Malaysia. One of them was seriously injured, officials said.

Hamid said the Thai authorities questioned the men who identified another suspect who was arrested.

Thai Maj. Gen. Santi Sakuntanak, the commander of the 5th Infantry Division and the Thep Satree Task Force, which oversees the border, said he had contacted his Malaysian counterparts.

“The commander of the 4th Army Region lodged a letter of condolence to the families of the dead and remorse to the injured and his family,” he said.

“We’ve arrested and detained those three Thais for questioning. If they are found to be at fault, we will cooperate with Malaysia,” he said.

“Next we will question them about what were they doing inside Malaysia,” he said, noting that the suspects were receiving treatment for injuries.

Malaysian police, meanwhile, arrested two suspects.

“The suspects had confessed that they were part of the group, and they were carrying bundles of kratom leaves and cough syrup in gunny sacks when the group stumbled upon the police officers. They said they were startled and fled the scene as soon as the gunfight started,” Hamid said.

Authorities did not release information about others suspected of participating in the shootout.

Police determined the suspects were Thai smugglers who had crossed the border to pick up kratom leaves and cough syrup left by conspirators in Malaysia. Kratom, which is similar to an opioid, apparently is popular on the Thai side of the border and smugglers barter it for drugs in high demand in Malaysia including heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine, the chief said.

Tuesday’s shootout was the first that led to the death of a border officer but was not the only incident where smugglers shot at police securing the area, Hamid said.

On Nov. 12, several shots were fired on Nov. 12 against members of the same police battalion but none were injured. Three days later, a similar incident occurred.

Police have identified seven groups of smugglers who are active in the area, the police chief said.

Wilawan Watcharasakwet in Bangkok, Thailand, contributed to this report.

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