KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are revving up their security cooperation in the Sulu Sea.
The three nations will conduct joint naval patrols in the Sulu Sea from next week to curb cross-border kidnapping-for-ransom activities in the area and to also discourage terrorist activities.
Kyodo News quoted Indonesian defense force commander General Gatot Nurmantyo as saying the patrols would begin next Tuesday, a day after defense ministers and military commanders of the three countries sign a memorandum of understanding in the Indonesian town of Tarakan.
Many Malaysians and Indonesians have been abducted by armed men linked to the violent Abu Sayyaf rebel group based in the southern Philippines. The ransom money is believed to be used to buy weapons in the group’s war against the Philippines.
Abu Sayyaf, Kyodo News said, claimed to promote an independent Islamic state comprising part of Mindanao island and the Sulu Archipelago in the Philippines.
Abu Sayyaf militants have been fighting side-by-side with the Islamic-State-linked Maute Group against Philippine troops in the city of Marawi, on Mindanao island, since May 23.
The defence ministers are expected to discuss events in Marawi. It was reported that Malaysians, Indonesians, Arabs, and Chechens were fighting alongside the Maute Group.
Reuters quoted Nurmantyo as saying: “It’s easy to jump from Marawi to Indonesia and we must all beware of sleeper cells being activated in Indonesia.”
It quoted an unnamed Malaysian government official as saying that while information was shared on militant suspects, there was some frustration over a perceived lack of follow up in the Philippines.
“One of the challenges is tracking militants once they’re in the southern Philippines. Only the Philippine army can confront them on land,” the Malaysian official was quoted as saying by Reuters.
In April, Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he had suggested that Singapore and Thailand send observers along for security patrols in the Sulu Sea.
“We have cooperated with Singapore and Thailand to monitor the security aspects in the Straits of Malacca before, so I believe this approach can be implemented based on the experiences they have.
“If we succeed in carrying out the proposed patrols with the Philippines, Indonesia and Brunei with Singapore and Thailand as observers, I feel it will be a major contribution from the defence ministry and Malaysian Armed Forces towards security in the Sulu Sea,” he had said.