Philip­pines, neigh­bors band to­gether against ris­ing tide of mil­i­tant groups

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY TERESA CAROJANO AND JIM GOMEZ

MANILA | The Philip­pines, In­done­sia and Malaysia agreed Thurs­day to closely co­op­er­ate to halt the flow of mil­i­tants, weapons, funds and ex­trem­ist pro­pa­ganda across their borders, as they ex­pressed alarm over re­cent at­tacks in the re­gion in­clud­ing a month­long siege of a south­ern Philip­pine city.

For­eign Sec­re­tary Alan Peter Cayetano and his In­done­sian and Malaysian coun­ter­parts met in Manila with top se­cu­rity of­fi­cials to dis­cuss a joint plan of ac­tion amid the siege of Marawi by mil­i­tants aligned with the Is­lamic State group that has left at least 369 com­bat­ants and civil­ians dead.

As the Is­lamic State group loses ter­ri­tory in Syria and Iraq, South­east Asian gov­ern­ments worry that bat­tle-hard­ened Asian fight­ers, in­clud­ing ones from In­done­sia and Malaysia, may re­turn to ex­ploit so­cial restive­ness, weak law en­force­ment, a sur­feit of il­le­gal arms and rag­ing in­sur­gen­cies to es­tab­lish a foothold in the re­gion.

Many worry that the siege in Marawi could draw in the re­turn­ing ji­hadis.

“We ex­pect that those who will be dis­placed there will go to Asia and be­cause of the Marawi up­ris­ing, the Philip­pines is like a mag­net,” said Philip­pine mil­i­tary chief of staff Gen. Ed­uardo Ano, who took part in the se­cu­rity con­fer­ence.

In­done­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Retno Mar­sudi con­demned the at­tack in Marawi and said her gov­ern­ment is ready to help.

“Your chal­lenges are In­done­sia’s chal­lenges and your chal­lenges are also the chal­lenges of the re­gion,” she said, adding that the threat of ter­ror­ism is im­mi­nent and that “no ac­tion is not an op­tion.”

Malaysia’s top diplo­mat, Ani­fah Aman, said it’s more dif­fi­cult now for gov­ern­ments to fight mil­i­tants, who are will­ing to die and are har­ness­ing tech­nol­ogy and so­cial me­dia to spread their mes­sages faster and re­cruit fol­low­ers across the world.

“Mo­ti­vated by a per­verse ide­ol­ogy, ter­ror­ists to­day wel­come death for others and also for them­selves,” Mr. Ani­fah said.

Mr. Cayetano said the three coun­tries agreed to go be­yond a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion in deal­ing with ex­trem­ists who breed in dis­mal so­cial con­di­tions. “We take note that drugs, crime, poverty, in­jus­tice play a big role in mak­ing the ground fer­tile for re­cruit­ment or for rad­i­cal­iz­ing, es­pe­cially young peo­ple,” Mr. Cayetano said.

In a joint state­ment, the three gov­ern­ments ex­pressed “con­cern over the re­cent in­ci­dents of ter­ror­ism and vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism in their coun­tries” and said they would plan strate­gies to­gether to com­bat them. They pledged to im­prove in­tel­li­gence-shar­ing about po­ten­tial threats, stop the flow of mil­i­tants, funds and weapons, and con­tain the spread of pro­pa­ganda on so­cial me­dia.

The coun­tries will also dis­cuss how to co­op­er­ate in en­hanc­ing mil­i­tary and law en­force­ment train­ing and help each other pro­mote re­li­gious tol­er­ance and mod­er­a­tion, the state­ment said.

“What is im­por­tant is the help of re­li­gious lead­ers so we can bring them back to moder­ate, main­stream Is­lam,” Gen. Ano said.

South­east Asian for­eign min­is­ters will meet later this year to dis­cuss ris­ing rad­i­cal­iza­tion and vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Of­fi­cials from the Philip­pines, In­done­sia and Malaysia met in Manila on Thurs­day to plan how they would halt the flow of mil­i­tants, weapons, funds and ex­trem­ist pro­pa­ganda across their borders. The na­tions agreed that they must go be­yond a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion.

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