Indonesia could close its borders to prevent militants from entering, says Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu

Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu estimated there are more than 200,000 ISIS sympathisers in South-east Asia. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - Indonesia could close its borders to prevent militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the southern Philippines from entering its territories, Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu said on Sunday (June4).

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

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

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

These numbers have left the world "overwhelmed" and in fear of the terrorist group, said Mr Ryamizard, a retired general.

Indonesia, which is the world's most populous Muslim nation, has more than 200 million Muslims, making them "prime targets" to be influenced by the radical ideology espoused by the ISIS, he added.

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 - remained undecided.

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 one 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.

"This is very important because most of the elements from Maute and ISIS come from the area, so we need to remove the sympathy of the people to ISIS and extremists," he said.

Mr David also said Mr Duterte was considering a federal system of government, which will allow autonomy in the southern Philippines, as a political solution to counter extremism.

Mr Ryamizard pointed to how important intelligence sharing and cooperation was to fighting terrorism. He 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.

"Hopefully in a short time we can disclose these networks," he said.

Mr Ryamizard also said the Sulu Sea patrols involving Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines were initially mooted to combat piracy, but could now be a platform to fight terrorism. The patrols, which will begin on June 19, could take place in an area that ISIS has declared part of its "South-east Asia" caliphate.

At a separate panel on Sunday, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen also said intelligence was key in the fight against terror, adding that Singapore has stepped up information sharing with other countries.

Dr Ng also pledged Singapore's assistance to the joint patrols in the Sulu Sea.

"Singapore has offered the assistance of our Information Fusion Centre in Changi Naval Base to the Sulu Sea patrols to combat maritime terrorism and kidnappings," he said.

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