Singapore joins new regional counter-terror pact

NUSA DUA • Six South-east Asian nations launched an intelligence pact yesterday aimed at combating Islamist militants and improving co-operation on security threats, overcoming what analysts described as a high level of distrust.

Under the "Our Eyes" initiative, senior defence officials will meet every two weeks to swap information on militant groups and develop a common database of violent extremists.

The intelligence sharing arrangement comes after insurgents aligned to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria laid siege to the southern Philippine city of Marawi last year.

Dozens of foreigners were among hundreds of militants who seized Marawi and engaged in a ferocious battle with Philippine forces that left much of the city in ruins and more than 1,100 people dead.

Some of the foreign fighters are believed to have travelled to Marawi via the porous maritime borders of the Sulu Sea, next to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

"This is something that seems so simple, but the effect is extraordinary," said Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu at the "soft launch" in Bali.

Mr Ryacudu said intelligence sharing would help ensure another incident like Marawi did not occur. He added that the intelligence sharing was "specifically for (combating) terrorism and radicalism".

Along with Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Brunei - all members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) - have signed up.

Singapore was represented by Senior Minister of State for Defence Mohamad Maliki Osman, marking the country's commitment to strengthening regional counter-terrorism cooperation.

"It's a significant development," said Mr John Blaxland, an intelligence analyst from the Australian National University.

"Asean has long struggled with getting beyond superficiality when it comes to collaboration on security matters."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 26, 2018, with the headline 'Singapore joins new regional counter-terror pact'. Print Edition | Subscribe