Bangkok Post

Nations step up cooperatio­n as Islamic State threat rises


SINGAPORE: Southeast Asian nations plan to use spy planes and drones to stem the movement of militants across their porous borders, defence officials said at the weekend, as concerns rise over the growing clout of Islamic State (IS) in the region.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippine­s said they will launch joint air patrols this month at their shared boundaries in the Sulu Sea, in addition to existing maritime patrols.

Authoritie­s in the region have urged greater cooperatio­n to counter the fallout from a raging battle with IS-linked militants in the southern Philippine­s, the biggest warning yet that the ultra-radical group is building a base in Southeast Asia.

“Our open borders are being exploited by terrorist groups,” Le Luong Minh, Asean Secretary-General, told the Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual regional security forum in Singapore.

The region is home to 600 million people and includes Indonesia, which has the world’s highest number of Muslims. Authoritie­s in both Indonesia and Malaysia, also Muslim-majority, have said thousands of their citizens are IS sympathise­rs and hundreds are believed to have travelled to Syria to join the extremist group.

Indonesian authoritie­s blamed the IS for bombings last month that killed three police officers, the latest in a series of attacks by the militants in the past 17 months.

In recent months, dozens of fighters from Indonesia and Malaysia have crossed from their countries to Mindanao in the southern Philippine­s, intelligen­ce officials have said, easily passing through waters that have often been lawless and plagued by pirates. Mindanao is the one region in the largely Catholic Philippine­s to have a significan­t Muslim minority.

Asean made a joint pledge with the US on the sidelines of the Shangri-La forum to help the Philippine­s overcome the militant assault in the city of Marawi.

“What featured quite strongly in the US-Asean meeting was the pledge by both US and Asean members that we stand ready to help the Philippine­s ... whether it’s informatio­n, intelligen­ce or otherwise,” said Singaporea­n Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen.

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippine­s, with the assistance of neighbouri­ng Singapore, have carried out joint maritime patrols in the Sulu Sea since last year after a series of kidnapping­s by the pro-IS Abu Sayyaf group.

“We decided at least these three countries, to avoid being accused of doing nothing ... We’re doing joint maritime and air patrols,” said Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammudd­in Hussein, adding that the air patrols will be launched on June 19.

“If we do nothing, they get a foothold in this region.”

Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said his country will consider deploying drones and surveillan­ce planes at its borders with the Philippine­s.

Among other measures, Singaporea­n and Malaysian officials said monitoring and intelligen­ce-sharing on specific individual­s had been stepped up in the wake of the fighting in Marawi.

Singapore’s Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam on Sunday urged residents to report friends or family suspected of being radicalise­d.

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