Malaysia, Philippines Agree to Boost Anti-Kidnapping Efforts at Sea

Hata Wahari
Putrajaya, Malaysia
161110-MY-duterte-620.jpg Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak, left, meets with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at the prime minister’s office in Putrajaya, Nov. 10, 2016.

Malaysia and the Philippines agreed Thursday to increase cooperation against kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf militants and other security threats along their shared maritime borders, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said after holding talks here with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

Najib, who hosted the new Philippine president during his first official trip to Malaysia, said Duterte had granted permission for Malaysian ships to enter his country’s waters during hot pursuits of kidnappers.

“I am pleased to announce the signing of an exchange of notes between our governments on establishing a framework for cooperation in tackling the issue of kidnap for ransom and other security issues along our sea borders,” Najib said in statement released Thursday.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay Jr confirmed that the two countries agreed to establish “stricter security cooperation on sea borders,” among other issues of mutual concern, the Philippine Star reported.

“The prime minister was just as concerned as we are. There is much to be done in terms of cooperation,” Yasay told the Star, referring to the prospect of hot-pursuit operations by either nation’s military or police forces.

The seas that separate the southern Philippines from the close-by Malaysian state of Sabah have been plagued this year with kidnappings of Malaysian and Indonesian sailors off ships sailing in those waters.

Ten Malaysians have been kidnapped to date in 2016, and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) is holding six of them hostage as it reportedly demands ransom money for their release. Over the weekend, two Indonesian sailors were abducted by gunmen in waters off Sabah.

For months officials from Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have talked about mounting joint patrols aimed at safeguarding the Sulu and Celebes seas from piracy and kidnappings, but have yet to implement the plan.

“If we’re chasing the bad guys, for example, and we reach the international maritime boundaries with the Philippines, if we were to stop, the bad guys will get away,” Najib told a news conference in Putrajaya after his meeting with Duterte, who was on a two-day visit to Malaysia.

“So we must continue pursuing them and if possible, interdict them ... but the moment we reach the international maritime boundaries with the Philippines, we have to inform the Philippine Navy, they will be informed that we are entering Philippines waters and they will also try to be assisting us,” Najib added.

Hot pursuits could begin as soon as defense ministers establish standard operating procedures (SOP), Najib said Thursday, according to state news agency Bernama. Indonesia’s defense minister will join his Malaysian and Philippine counterparts in Laos on Nov. 22 to discuss the SOP and legal aspects involved in such pursuits involving all three countries, Bernama reported.

“This new development is a practical way to helping each other because we really need to stamp out the kidnappings affecting the security and welfare, not only for Sabahans but also foreigners who are visiting us,” Najib said.

Azmi Hassan, an analyst at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), said the agreement that both sides struck on Thursday reflected Duterte’s resolve in putting an end to kidnappings carried out by Abu Sayyaf.

“This means Philippine waters will be penetrated by Malaysian and Indonesia militaries. That’s why this development shows the seriousness of President Duterte,” Azmi told BenarNews.

Malaysia as peace monitor

During their meeting Najib and Duterte also agreed that Malaysia would no longer serve as a facilitator in peace talks between the Philippine government and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) rebels, but would continue to monitor efforts in the southern Philippines, Najib said.

In August, weeks after Duterte took office, Malaysia facilitated talks in Kuala Lumpur on implementing a stalled southern Philippine peace deal between Manila and MILF. At the meeting Philippine government representatives and a MILF delegation began negotiating a new version of a law associated with the deal, which was signed in 2014.

It has been held up because the Philippine Senate did not take up the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL), whose passage was needed to implement the deal, before former President Benigno Aquino III left office.

“The peace process will move forward and we will continue with our monitoring team there. They do not require a facilitator since there are no more negotiations,” Najib said. “It is more due process and it is more internal domestic matter.”


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