Indonesia military launches anti-ISIS operation on eastern island

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia's military has launched an anti-terrorism operation on the eastern island of Sulawesi to crack down on militants with suspected links to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the armed forces chief said on Monday.

General Moeldoko said the military was helping police to track down radicals, highlighting government concern over Indonesians pledging loyalty to ISIS and returning to the world's most populous Muslim country after training alongside the group in Syria or Iraq.

"The military will not give any space for IS to develop or live in Indonesia," Moeldoko told Reuters at military headquarters on the outskirts of the capital Jakarta, using an alternative name of ISIS.

The operation was launched on March 31 and has since finished. It was Indonesia's first major military counter-terrorism operation, which included special forces personnel and intelligence agents, since the aftermath of the 2009 Jakarta hotel bombings.

Moeldoko did not say how many militants had been killed or captured.

Indonesia has fought a small number of homegrown militant groups since the early 2000s and has arrested a few people suspected of receiving IS training in Syria.

In the most deadly attack, Indonesian militants bombed a nightclub on the holiday island of Bali in 2002, killing 202 people, many of them Australians.

Police have been largely successful in destroying domestic militant cells since then, but officials now worry about a resurgence.

"The exercises (in the mountainous region of Central Sulawesi) have ended," Moeldoko said. "But we still have military elements there."

Moeldoko also raised concerns over tensions in the South China Sea, where a number of Southeast Asian countries have overlapping claims with China, calling for a new military balance in the region.

"There are significant changes in the stable and calm conditions that existed in the region a decade ago," he said. "So everyone has an opinion that China is a threat to the neighbourhood. The region needs a new balance, which cannot be represented by just one major power."

China claims most of the potentially energy-rich South China Sea, disputed in parts with the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan, and denies accusations its actions in its own territory are a threat.