Sunday March 10, 2013
Lahad Datu: Minister clears the air over use of AirAsia flights
SUNGAI PETANI: The Defence Ministry's decision to make use of budget carrier AirAsia was because it needed a bigger aircraft to ferry its soldiers to Sabah.
Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said the Royal Malaysian Air Force's Charlie airplanes could only accommodate fewer than 200 soldiers each.
“Hence, we needed a bigger aircraft to send the troops to strengthen our security forces in Sabah during this critical moment,” he told reporters after attending a promotion ceremony for 183 personnel at Sungai Layar army camp here yesterday.
“This is a contract between the Defence Ministry and the airline years ago and such a practice is common in other countries.”
Ahmad Zahid was commenting on the debates among Netizens over the ministry's decision to send two battalions of soldiers to Sabah on AirAsia on March 3.
A Twitter post by AirAsia group chief executive officer Tan Sri Tony Fernandes that day, showing images of soldiers preparing to board the AirAsia aircraft, was shared by Netizens on Facebook.
Freelance defence journalist and analyst Dzirhan Mahadzir had also written that although the air force had 14 C-130 Hercules capable of carrying 90 soldiers each, there were some 1,400 soldiers in two battalions.
For the standoff with Sulu militants, the army had to transport between two and five battalions to Lahad Datu.
Taking to task Netizens who posted inaccurate information, Ahmad Zahid, describing them as “heartless people”, said they were deliberately trying to provoke emotions among the public.
“Most of them have no knowledge of military strategies but simply criticise the force,” he said.
Ahmad Zahid cautioned the public against speculating and questioning the way the military protected the country.
He also slammed Opposition leaders who described the Lahad Datu intrusion as a political sandiwara (drama).
“I want to remind them (the Opposition) that this is the time to set aside our differences and stay united in facing common enemies.”
Commending the media who provided first-hand information on the intrusion, he said: “The Home Minis-ter (Datuk Seri Hishammudddin Tun Hussein) and I plan to present certificates of appreciation to the journalists who worked hard to cover the incident.”