Security at sea tops agenda of Duterte's KL visit

Philippine leader also wants to work with Malaysian PM Najib to fight drug trade

President Rodrigo Duterte is now in Malaysia for a two-day visit to discuss multilateral efforts to combat piracy, the illegal narcotics trade and a plague of kidnappings off Sabah's coasts.

"Foremost on my agenda is the maritime security and the fight against piracy at sea," he said, as he departed yesterday for a stopover in Thailand to pay his respects to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej en route to Kuala Lumpur.

Mr Duterte and Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak are scheduled to hold bilateral talks this afternoon.

"The focus of my visit shall be to strengthen the Philippines' partnership with Malaysia for security and stability. These are the foundations of our nations' peace process, progress and prosperity," he said.

Mr Duterte said he would also thrash out with Mr Najib Kuala Lumpur's role in brokering a peace pact between the Philippines and Muslim rebels in the war-torn southern island group of Mindanao.

Malaysia has been hosting talks between a government peace panel and the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Philippines' largest Muslim secessionist group.

Mr Najib flew to Manila in 2014 to witness the signing of a historic power-sharing agreement to end one of Asia's longest and deadliest insurgencies.

But talks on a law creating an autonomous Muslim region in Mindanao collapsed, after a botched raid on the lair of Malaysian terrorist Zulkifli Hir, alias Marwan, inside MILF-held territories last year led to the deaths of dozens of police commandos.

Mr Duterte is now trying to revive that process.

On the Philippines' claims over Sabah, Mr Duterte said he would not pursue them while in Kuala Lumpur. He said the visit would focus on the Strait of Malacca, where Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have implemented a regular network of patrols to respond to security threats.

During his visit, Mr Duterte will be hosted to dinner by the Malaysian Premier and his wife, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor. Mr Duterte is also expected to meet the Filipino community in Malaysia.

His visit to Malaysia comes just days after the Abu Sayyaf, another militant Islamist group that is known for kidnapping foreigners for ransom, abducted German sailor Jurgen Kantner, 70, and killed his wife, as the couple were sailing off Tanjong Luok Pisuk in Sabah early on Sunday.

The Abu Sayyaf has also been preying on Malaysians and Indonesians, snatching them from tugboats, fishing boats and resorts off Sabah's coasts.

The Philippines and Indonesia have already agreed to jointly combat the Abu Sayyaf.

Mr Duterte said he would ask Mr Najib to join such efforts, "to ensure that our waterways are secure, and that criminal and terrorist elements do not use our seas to undertake their illegal activities".

These include fighting the drug trade.

"This menace knows no boundaries, and cooperation between our nations is vital in order to address this problem," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 10, 2016, with the headline 'Security at sea tops agenda of Duterte's KL visit'. Print Edition | Subscribe