Malaysia: Joint Sea Patrol Launch with Indonesia, Philippines Delayed

Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata and Colin Forsythe
Jakarta and Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
2017-04-10
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170410-ID-MY-patrols-620.jpg Philippine Coast Guard personnel run toward the newly commissioned Multi-Role Response Vessel BRP Malapascua that will be deployed in Sulu province to take on the Abu Sayyaf Group, March 7, 2017.
AFP

The planned Tuesday launch of joint maritime patrols to curb kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) militants in the Sulu and Sulawesi seas has been delayed because the Philippine defense chief was unable to join his Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts at the event, officials said.

Malaysian Defense Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said the launch would be moved to a later, unspecified date, because all three defense ministers are needed for the signing of the trilateral security pact “in the spirit of friendship and solidarity.”

Philippines Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana “has been directed to accompany Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on an official visit to the Middle East from April 10 to 16,” Hishammuddin said in explaining the delay.

Malaysian and Indonesian officials announced last week the launch would be held at Sandakan Sabah Naval Base, in the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah. Invitations were sent to reporters to cover the event and Indonesian officials said five journalists would be traveling to Malaysia.

The launch will culminate nearly a year of planning for the joint patrols. In May 2016, foreign ministers from the three countries agreed to launch the patrols, followed one month later by a defense ministers meeting to discuss the plan. By November, an Indonesian spokesman said a series of obstacles had slowed efforts.

Foot-dragging

Indonesia had earlier delayed in confirming attendance at Sandakan, suggesting the launch be staged on Indonesian soil instead.

Indonesia military spokesman Maj. Gen. Wuryanto had proposed the joint patrols begin on April 20 in Tarakan, in North Kalimantan province, because many of ASG’s kidnapping victims were Indonesian.

“We’ll adjust to the plans of each of the defense ministries,” Wuryanto told BenarNews on Monday regarding the delay. Indonesia could still serve as host for the launch, he said.

“We will try that if it is possible. But in principle it can be anywhere,” Wuryanto said.

For years, ASG has been kidnapping and holding hostages for ransom, and executing some of them. In February, the group released a video showing the beheading of a German hostage, Jurgen Kantner, after a deadline for a U.S. $600,000 (2.6 million ringgit) ransom passed.

Last year, ASG militants were blamed for attacks on ships in waters between Borneo island and the southern Philippines that resulted in abductions of dozens of Indonesian and Malaysian sailors. Most have been released, but seven Indonesians are still believed to be in ASG captivity. Other hostages include 13 Vietnamese, a Dutch national, a Japanese and seven Filipinos.

In 2016, ASG collected at least 354.1 million Philippines pesos (U.S. $7.3 million) from ransom paid for hostages, Philippines-based news website Rappler.com reported.

An Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs official told BenarNews last week that a temporary plan for the joint patrols launch called for ships from the three countries to gather in Tarakan, Indonesia, sail to Sandakan, Malaysia, and from there head to Bongao in the Philippines.

“The three locations are naval bases of each country which have been appointed as the command centers and are given the authority to issue notice to mariners if there is an attack,” Bebeb Djundjunan told BenarNews last week.

Lorenzana has said little about the joint patrols since the proposed launch date was announced last week. He did tell the Financial Times that he hoped the patrols would “keep the sailors safe and also prevent the movement of terrorists from one place to another.”

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