Asia-Pacific ministers vow to strengthen civil society to fight ISIS

SYDNEY (AFP) - Asia-Pacific ministers on Friday vowed to counter violent extremism promoted by militant groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) at a two-day regional summit in Sydney, with Australia's Attorney-General saying their goal was to build societies resilient to terrorism.

The two-day conference, which included ministers and officials from 24 countries as well as from the European Union and United Nations (UN), focused on governments' moves to strengthen links to communities and civil societies in a bid to stop citizens being radicalised.

"I consider this summit an historic event, and an occasion we must build on to implement tangible outcomes that will make a material difference in this region's fight against terrorism," Attorney-General George Brandis said at the summit's closing address in Sydney.

"The leaders of our region have sent a strong message to the world - that we will not sit idle and allow terrorist groups to continue to recruit and radicalise our citizens through their perverse ideologies."

In a communique released after the summit, ministers from countries such as Japan, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore said they were determined to strengthen regional cooperation ahead of summit talks on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September.

The ministers committed to establishing a regional network of civil society groups, developing a regional guide for public and private sectors to collaborate more on combating extremist views and building on local communities' efforts to take on terrorists' propaganda.

"This is in recognition that governments cannot alone effectively meet this challenge - we must develop and sustain strong partnerships with industry and civil society to not only negate those who propagate violent extremism but offer viable alternatives," Mr Brandis said.

Like the Washington summit in February, the communique chose to avoid comments that were specifically focused on Islamic militants.

Instead, the ministers' stressed in their post-conference statement that "terrorism and violent extremism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality or civilisation".

One of the key discussion points of the summit was the need to tackle the spread of ISIS ideology online and how that could be done.

The Australian government has already introduced several laws to meet such concerns, such as requiring telecommunications firms to retain customers' digital data for two years.

Mr Brandis also repeated at the summit earlier Friday that Australia was implementing a social-media monitoring facility.

He added in new comments that some 175 Australians had travelled to Iraq and Syria to support the militants.

It is understood that about 110 were currently fighting in the two nations, while up to 35 Australians were believed to have been killed and another 30 had returned from the region.