Tarakan, Jun 19 – Southeast Asian neighbors Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines launched coordinated maritime patrols on Monday to intensify their fight against Islamic militants who have laid siege to a southern Philippine city, reports AP/UNB.
Defense ministers and military chiefs from the three countries launched the patrols in the Indonesian city of Tarakan in northern Borneo, just across the border from Sabah, Malaysia.
Indonesia’s military chief, Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo, said the Maritime Command Centers were also opened in the cities of Tawau in Malaysia and Bongao in the Philippines. The information and intelligence sharing centers establish designated sea lanes for boats and ships in the seas along the countries’ borders to prevent Islamic State-aligned militants in the southern Philippines from fleeing to neighboring nations.
The conflict in the city of Marawi has raised fears that the Islamic State group’s violent ideology is gaining a foothold in the Philippines’ restive south, where Muslim separatists have fought for greater autonomy for decades.
Nurmantyo said the trilateral maritime patrol was initiated by Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines last year to maintain stability in the region in the face of threats such as piracy, kidnapping, terrorism and other transnational crimes in regional waters.
“This trilateral cooperation is needed to anticipate infiltration possibility of IS-aligned militants from Marawi disguised as refugees,” Nurmantyo said in a speech.
Monday’s opening ceremony was held on board an Indonesian warship and was attended by security officials from Singapore and Brunei, who acted as observers.
Authorities in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, have carried out a sustained crackdown on militants since the 2002 bombings by al-Qaida-affiliated radicals that killed 202 people in Bali. In recent years, it has faced a new threat as the rise of the Islamic State group in the Middle East has breathed new life into local militant networks and raised concerns about the risk of Indonesian fighters returning home.
Marawi is 750 kilometers (465 miles) northeast of Tarakan in Indonesia’s North Kalimantan province.