Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines to patrol Sulu Sea

‘Navies from 3 countries to fight Abu Sayyaf, piracy and terrorism’

The Mindanao Examiner Regional Newspaper - - Front Page -

AYEAR AFTER Malaysia proposed a maritime patrols and aerial surveillance with the Philippines ippines and and Indonesia Indonesia in in the the Sulu Sulu Sea Sea at at the the border of Sabah, the three Asian neighbors are set to start its first operation in April, a bold move aimed at protecting their borders against ransom kidnappings and piracy by the Isis-affiliated Abu Sayyaf group.

Malaysia's navy chief, Admiral Ahmad Kamarulzaman, said the cooperation is unprecedented and reflects the level of trust and confidence among the three nations. “We first discussed it a year ago and now, we are looking at launching our first joint operation from Sandakan sometime next month. The three navies of Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines will be working together,” he told Channel Newsasia in an exclusive interview recently.

Last year, Malaysian Defense Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein tackled the piracy and kidnapping problems in the Sulu Sea with his Filipino counterpart Voltaire Gazmin and Ryamizard Ryacudu, of Indonesia, according to the Malay Mail, adding, the same approach was also initiated by Malaysia Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to address piracy in the Strait of Melaka.

Ahmad said the initiative in the Sulu Sea will involve not just maritime patrols, but also air patrols of the waters and coastline. It is modelled after the current multilateral patrols in the Strait of Malacca that have successfully lowered the number of piracy cases reported to almost zero. “This is unique in the sense that not very often can you achieve this level of consensus, showing that all sides are serious in mitigating the challenges at sea especially due to kidnap for ransom and other cross-border crime,” he said.

“Everybody is comfortable with what needs to be done, as well as what we can and cannot do," said Admiral Ahmad. "More importantly, (there is) clear and sincere acceptance,” Ahmad said, adding, if authorities in Malaysia identify militant vessels, they can chase them even into Philippine waters.

“This requires a high level of trust, obviously. We do it together and we are in constant communication. As and when they are able to take on (the case) and pursue action, we hand over to them,” he added.

Channel Newsasia also quoted Hishammuddin after his recent meeting with Australia's Foreign Minister Julie Bishop as saying that Australia has also shown interest in the security measures being taken to combat piracy in the troubled waters as well.

President Rodrigo Duterte, who visited Kuala Lumpur last year, has allowed Malaysia to enter the country’s southern border in hot pursuit of Abu Sayyaf rebels and kidnap gangs following the slew of ransom kidnappings in Sabah just near the Muslim province of Tawi-tawi.

Duterte also allowed Indonesia to do the same following the spate of Abu Sayyaf attacks on its tugboats in Sabah and Tawi-tawi. The Philippines has joint border patrol agreements with both Malaysia and Indonesia. Sayyaf sub-leader wanted in Malaysia

slain Just last week, Filipino security forces killed an Abu Sayyaf subleader Buchoy Hassan who was linked by Philippines and Malaysian authorities to the spate of ransom kidnappings in Sabah following a firefight in Tawi-tawi.

The 48-year old Buchoy, who was known for his aliases Black and Bocoi, had been implicated to the November 2013 kidnapping of Taiwanese tourist Chang An Wei, 58, at Pulau Pom Pom off Sabah’s Semporna town. Chang’s 57-year old husband Hsu Li Min was killed during the kidnapping, and the woman had been freed 2 months later in Sulu province after paying huge ransom.

Army Major Jo-ann Petinglay, a spokeswoman for the Western Mindanao Command, said Buchoy was one of the wanted personalities in Malaysia for his involvement in the abduction of Taiwanese national Chang An Wei at the Pom Pom Island Resort in Sabah in November 2013.

She said soldiers and policemen recovered Hassan’s M16 automatic rifle and security forces seized 5 speedboats and several outboard engines, believed being used by the Abu Sayyaf in cross-border raids in Sabah.

Petinglay, quoting a military report, said that aside from kidnappings, Hassan – using his share of the ransoms to buy crystal meth, also controlled the illegal drug trade in Tawi-tawi, and recruited members for his nefarious activities.

“Hassan recruited cohorts and acquired several speedboats to sustain his illegal activities and became the key facilitator in the illegal drugs trade in Tawitawi,” she said.

Major General Carlito Galvez, the regional military commander, said the operations against the Abu Sayyaf were continuing in Tawi-tawi, just several hours by boat from Sabah, to prevent future kidnappings in the oil-rich Malaysian state.

“We are continuously conducting law enforcement support operations to assist the police and other law enforcement agencies in expediting the arrest of notorious members of the kidnap for ransom group and in preempting kidnapping attempts in the province,” he said. Malaysia arrests 5 Filipino militants The killing of Buchoy also coincided with the arrest of 5 Filipinos with alleged links to both the Abu Sayyaf and Islamic State in Sabah and Kuala Lumpur. Two other Malaysians were also arrested by the police from March 8 to 12, according to a report by Malaysian newspaper The Star. The identities of the Filipinos were not immediately known, but all of them are with permanent resident status and ages 18, 27, 31 and 53.

The report said two of the Filipinos were believed to have collected funds from Malaysian terror suspects Mohamad Joraimee Awang Raimee and Dr Mahmud Ahmad. And the third Filipino was said to have sworn allegiance to Abu Sayyaf chieftain Isnilon Hapilon, who is also the head of the local Islamic State in the Philippines. While the other planned to join the Islamic State and fight in Syria.

Filipino security and foreign affairs officials did not give any statement over the arrest of the Filipinos, although they previously said that the Abu Sayyaf is sheltering not only Indonesian militants, but also Malaysian and Middle Eastern terrorists with some of them killed while fighting alongside local jihadists in Basilan, one of 5 provinces under the restive Muslim autonomous region in southern Philippines.

President Duterte has ordered security forces to crush the Abu Sayyaf and other jihadist groups operating in the region and largely blamed by authorities for the spate of terror attacks and beheadings, including ransom kidnappings.

The Abu Sayyaf, which is actively operating in Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-tawi, is still holding over 2 dozen mostly Asian sailors and recently beheaded the 70-year old German yachter Jurgen Kantner after his family failed to raise P30 million ransom demanded by the small, but the mostly notorious jihadist group in the Philippines.

Filipino navy SEAL members onboard the unsinkable Us-made Boston Whaler speedboats during a demonstration off the southern Philippine port city of Zamboanga. The boats are donated to the military as part of Washington's security assistance program to the Philippines, which is battling the al-qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf group.

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