KUCHING, MALAYSIA - Sarawak's Yang Dipertua Negeri Tun Abang Muhammad Salahuddin Abang Barieng has called for quick action to stop criminals in Miri from targeting visitors from Brunei. "The theft of tourists' cars from a neighbouring state is worrying," he said when he opened the first sitting of the state assembly yesterday.
"If this crime is not checked, it will affect the image of Sarawak as a prime tourist destination."
Abang Muhammad called on police to beef up security in places visited frequently by tourists.
State Tourism Minister Datuk Michael Mayin said in response that the situation in Miri, which had 1.5 million visitors from Brunei last year, had improved greatly.
"The police in Miri only told me last Friday that there was not even one theft of Brunei-registered cars in the last few months," he said outside the assembly.
"Crimes committed against Brunei citizens had also declined. Security has improved tremendously and I am going to Brunei after the sitting of this assembly to give our guarantee that the security in Miri is doing well.
"It may be the case a year or two ago but but not any more," Mayin said.
He blamed envious Brunei businessmen, who see their countrymen heading to Miri every weekend to do their shopping, for continuing to fan stories that Miri was dangerous to visit.
Stories of Miri being unsafe had impacted tourist arrivals from Brunei. Miri recorded a drop of about 10 per cent in arrivals last year compared with 2007.
Manyin said security fears were not the main reason why Bruneians had stayed away from Miri.
He said they were also going to Kota Kinabalu to do their shopping at Borneo's largest shopping complex, 1Borneo.
"Curiosity played a part too. But I'm sure they'll be back.
"It's a six-hour drive to Kota Kinabalu and only one hour to Miri."