Security in Sulu and Sulawesi waters to be beefed up

At the meeting in Yogyakarta yesterday were (from left) Indonesian military chief Gatot Nurmantyo, Malaysian military chief Zulkifeli Mohd Zin, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retn
At the meeting in Yogyakarta yesterday were (from left) Indonesian military chief Gatot Nurmantyo, Malaysian military chief Zulkifeli Mohd Zin, Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, Philippine Foreign Minister Jose Rene Almendras and Philippine navy chief Caesar C. Taccad. Leaders of the three countries met following a spate of kidnappings off southern Philippines.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines will launch coordinated patrols and set up crisis centres

Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have agreed to launch coordinated patrols and set up crisis centres in their respective countries to better respond to emergencies in piracy-prone areas in the Sulu and Sulawesi seas.

There will also be a dedicated hotline for them to enable faster exchange of information in times of crisis at sea, said officials from the three Asean members in a joint statement yesterday.

"We have agreed to set up a national focal point among the three countries to facilitate sharing of information and intelligence in a prompt way and to coordinate in any emergency situation," said Indonesia's Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi. "This way, we can respond faster."

The initiatives would be adapted from the "best practices" of the ongoing Malacca Straits Patrol established in 2006 by the navies of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, she added.

Ms Retno was speaking to the media after a trilateral meeting in Yogyakarta involving her counterparts from Malaysia, Mr Anifah Aman, and the Philippines, Mr Jose Rene Almendras.

Indonesia's armed forces chief, General Gatot Nurmantyo, his Malaysian counterpart, General Zulkifeli Mohd Zin, and the Philippine navy chief, Rear-Admiral Caesar C. Taccad, also attended the discussions.

The meeting was called after a string of kidnappings in the waters off the southern Philippines, near where the maritime borders of the three countries meet.

Fourteen Indonesian and four Malaysian seamen were abducted from their boats by Abu Sayyaf militants in three separate incidents over the last five weeks.

Ten Indonesians seized at the end of March were released on May 1 and have since returned home.

More than 100,000 vessels sailed through the territorial waters off the Sulu Archipelago, in southern Philippines, carrying 55 million tonnes of cargo and some 18 million passengers last year, according to the Indonesian Foreign Ministry.

Yesterday's meeting was initiated by Jakarta "against the background of the increasing security challenges which are alarming in the waters between the three countries", including armed piracy, transnational crime and terrorism in the region.

While they did not address the territorial disputes in the South China Sea in their joint statement, all three countries "reaffirmed their mutual respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, national unity of each other".

The statement also highlighted the importance of "good neighbourliness and non-interference in the internal affairs of one another, consistent with the fundamental principles of the Charters of the United Nations and Asean".

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo said yesterday that he hoped future cooperation between all three countries could resolve existing problems.

"I have encouraged the military commanders to make clear standard operating procedures, so we can carry out our course of action together," he added.

Gen Gatot said a set of common standard operating procedures between the three armed forces would be rolled out by this month.

Observers say the latest development is a positive step in tackling issues such as terrorism and human trafficking in the region.

"The Abu Sayyaf abductions for instance would not have taken place had there been such cooperation before," said security analyst Yohanes Sulaiman from the Universitas Jenderal Achmad Yani.

"However, we need to see the content of the agreement. How far are the countries willing to cooperate on issues where they have different views or policies?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 06, 2016, with the headline 'Security in Sulu and Sulawesi waters to be beefed up'. Print Edition | Subscribe