The Philippines has agreed to allow the Malaysian and Indonesian maritime authorities who are in pursuit of pirates to enter Philippine waters to capture them, in a bid to stamp out a major security threat in the Sulu Sea off eastern Sabah.
"When we reach their waters, they have allowed us to keep chasing these kidnap-for-ransom groups," Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak told a news conference yesterday after meeting visiting Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.
He was referring to the Abu Sayyaf group based in the southern Philippines that is behind a series of kidnappings and beheadings of foreign hostages over the last few years.
Manila had in September agreed to allow the Indonesian authorities to enter its waters in "hot pursuit", after Mr Duterte met Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Jakarta.
Ten Malaysians have been abducted by gunmen linked to the Islamist extremists this year alone, with five still held in the Philippines.
"It is affecting the welfare and security of not only Sabahans, but also foreigners who visit us. This gives a clear signal that we are serious in stamping out kidnapping," Datuk Seri Najib said.
The Malaysian and Indonesian authorities will need to inform the Philippine navy only when crossing maritime borders to apprehend kidnappers, but will not be allowed to continue the chase ashore, he said.
Other legal issues and a standard operating procedure for the "hot pursuit" approach will be discussed trilaterally among their defence ministers when they meet in the Laotian capital of Vientiane on Nov 22, officials said.
Abu Sayyaf is holding as hostages at least 15 people - five Malaysians, two Indonesians, seven Filipinos and one from the Netherlands.
On Sunday, German national Jurgen Kantner, 70, was abducted from a yacht sailing in the Sulu Sea. The Philippine authorities found on the yacht the body of his companion, Ms Sabine Merz.
Mr Duterte was in Malaysia from Wednesday for a two-day official visit. A dinner was hosted for him by Mr Najib and his wife Rosmah Mansor yesterday evening.
Mr Najib told reporters that on the issue of Sabah, the Philippines' claim "will not be addressed immediately". He added that the two leaders agreed instead that there "should not be legal or constitutional impediments to prevent us" from looking into the welfare of both the southern Philippines and Sabah, two underdeveloped areas.
Meanwhile, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said yesterday the monitoring of transborder crimes will now be transferred to his Defence Ministry from the Home Ministry.
"These crimes, like drugs and human smuggling, online gambling, arms dealing, are lucrative and represent an untapped black economy, which could fall into the hands of terrorists and extremists," The Star newspaper reported him as saying.