Asean neighbours launch sea patrols
TARAKAN, INDONESIA: Warships from Indonesia, the Philippines and Malaysia held manoeuvres yesterday near a naval base in northern Borneo to mark the launch of coordinated patrols to beef up security in waters plagued by insurgencies and banditry.
Helicopters and surveillance planes flew overhead as ministers and army chiefs from the countries attended ceremonies to launch the patrols as regional security takes on added urgency after Islamist militants overran a town in the southern Philippines.
The Philippine military has said that some of the Islamist militants, who were made up of local insurgent groups that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and also some foreign fighters, may have mingled with evacuees to slip away during the battle for Marawi City that has raged for almost four weeks.
"We need to watch out for the 500 to 600 terrorists there, 257 of whom have been killed already.
"The rest, based on information we are getting, are blending in with refugees to get out," said Indonesian military chief Gatot Nurmantyo.
The spectacular collapse in security in the southern Philippines has alarmed neighbours such as Indonesia and Malaysia.
Indonesia has deployed three Sukhoi fighters to help with security in case militants try to flee southwards towards Indonesia, the head of the Tarakan air base, Colonel Didik Krisyanto, told the state news agency Antara over the weekend.
Indonesia yesterday also inaugurated a maritime command centre in the naval base of Tarakan, a town in the province of North Kalimantan on Borneo island.
It was witnessed by defence ministers and army chiefs from the three countries.
Maritime command centres to coordinate the patrols and information sharing will also be set up in Tawau in Malaysia's Sabah state, and Bongao in the Philippines.
"We see these (command centres) functioning as a triangle, like a spider's web, where everything inside the triangle will be monitored," said military chief Nurmantyo.
"Maintaining marine security is the duty of Asean countries and not other countries," said Indonesian defence minister Ryamizard Ryacudu.
Singapore and Brunei also attended the launch of patrols as observers. - REUTERS