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Indonesia willing to close borders to keep terrorists out

Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu says beating extremism requires community approach

Indonesia could close its borders to prevent militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Philippines from entering its territories, its Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said yesterday.

Philippine security forces are battling about 400 militants, mostly from the pro-ISIS Maute group, who overran the southern city of Marawi in Mindanao on May 23.

"We have to... protect our borders, we can close our borders to make sure these militants, they don't move to other areas," the retired general told a panel discussion on regional security at the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, an annual summit attended by defence chiefs.

Mr Ryamizard estimated there are more than 200,000 ISIS sympathisers in South-east Asia, citing numbers from intelligence reports.

These figures have left the world "overwhelmed" and in fear of the terrorist group, said Mr Ryamizard, The Straits Times reported.

He pointed to an Indonesian survey done two years ago which showed that 96 per cent of Indonesians rejected the ISIS.

But this also meant that 4 per cent - or about eight million people - did not.

Mr Ryamizard cited the numbers as proof that defeating extremism required an approach that involved the community, and winning the hearts and minds of people.

"Physical action using weapons and guns or hard power to crush terrorism will only contribute 1 per cent in solving the basic root of terrorism," he said.

Also on the panel were retired general Ricardo A. David Jr, the Philippine undersecretary for defence policy, and Asean secretary-general Le Luong Minh.

In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has an economic, political and social package to combat extremism, Mr David said, adding that talks were now underway with militant groups in the southern parts of the country.

Mr Ryamizard said intelligence agencies from Singapore provided him with information, including addresses, on possible Indonesian terror suspects at a meeting on Saturday night.

His counter-terrorism agencies would use the information to start investigations on the suspects, he added.

He said there are about 1,200 ISIS operatives in the Philippines, including foreigners of whom 40 are from Indonesia, AFP reported.

Mr Ryamizard urged full-scale regional cooperation against them.

Up to 50 gunmen are still controlling the Marawi city centre nearly two weeks after the start of fighting that has killed 177 people, 120 of them militants.

Said Mr Ryamizard: "How can we tackle these foreign fighters? We have to be comprehensive.

"We have to find... complete ways, but we must exercise caution; they are killing machines.

"Their aim is to kill other people so that's why it's our responsibility that we have common understanding, consensus and common proceedings on how to fight these foreign fighters."

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