Armed gunmen kidnap two men off Malaysia's Sabah coast

KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) - Two men - a Malaysian and a Filipino - were abducted on Monday off the coast of Borneo island by a pair of sea-borne gunmen, a police official said, despite heavy security in the area after a spate of kidnappings.

"Two armed gunmen abducted two people from an open-sea fish farm. They were taken away in a boat," said Mr Omar Mammah, head of criminal investigations for the Malaysian state of Sabah.

He said Malaysian citizen Chan Sai Chiun, 32, and a Filipino employee identified as Maslan were abducted from the fish farm Mr Chan operates off the small coastal town of Kunak in Sabah, in northern Borneo.

Eastern Sabah is known for its pristine coral reefs that are popular with scuba-diving enthusiasts.

But bandits from the unruly, predominantly Muslim southern Philippines have repeatedly crossed a narrow sea border to abduct Malaysian citizens and foreigners over the years, typically taking them back to the Philippines and seeking ransom payments.

In May, a Chinese man was seized from the fish farm he manages and is still thought to be held in the southern Philippines.

In April, a Chinese tourist and a Filipina resort worker were abducted from a diving resort, but were recently freed. Malaysian officials said the kidnappers demanded US$11 million (S$13.7 million) for the Chinese woman's release, but the government later denied anything was paid.

Malaysia ramped up security in Sabah after a bloody incursion last year by Islamic Philippine guerillas who sought to stake a historical claim to the area.

But kidnappings have continued.

Many abductions over the years have been blamed on the Abu Sayyaf militant group, which is believed to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

Abu Sayyaf gunmen kidnapped 21 people - several of them foreign tourists - from a Sabah diving resort in 2000.

They were released a few months later after being ransomed.

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