Thailand, Philippines Pledge Closer Counter-Terror Ties

Nontarat Phaicharoen
170322-TH-PH-cooperate-620.jpg Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha (center) speaks with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte at Government House in Bangkok, March 21, 2017.

Bangkok and Manila vowed to cooperate more closely in staving off growing security threats from terrorism and transnational criminals when Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s visited Thailand this week.

Contending with respective threats from rebel groups in Thailand’s Deep South and Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines, Duterte and Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha agreed that their governments would move swiftly to exchange information and intelligence.

“Both leaders expressed concern on the growing security challenges from the spread of terrorism and extremism as well as transnational crimes such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, piracy and cyber security with a shared view that cooperation at the bilateral, regional and international levels, are required in dealing with these challenges,” according to a joint statement released Tuesday during Duterte’s three-day visit.

“In this regard, the two leaders agreed to enhance cooperation in the exchange of information and intelligence among security agencies of both sides at the bilateral, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and Interpol frameworks to increase efficiency in addressing these challenges,” the statement said.

The leaders of the two ASEAN states also reaffirmed their nations’ commitment to stronger bilateral defense and economic ties. The Philippines this year holds the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a 10-nation bloc marking its 40th anniversary in 2017.

The two countries, longtime pillars of the regional bloc, are contending with similar challenges, according to an adviser to Thailand’s deputy prime minister.

“The Philippines faces separatism and extremism like us, but at a much greater degree, as far as I understand. In Mindanao, the Abu Sayyaf is very violent,” said Panithan Wattanayagorn who advises Gen. Prawit Wongsuwan, Thailand’s deputy prime minister for security affairs and defense minister.

“Abu Sayyaf has joined the IS (Islamic State) and campaigns with even increased violence and has links to other regional organizations,” Panithan told BenarNews, adding, “We periodically have international terrorists transit in Thailand. Therefore, exchanging in information is very crucial.”

IS links to Thailand?

In 2016, according to a source closely involved with security issues in Thailand, there was no evidence of suspected IS ideologists transiting through the country heading to Syria. But in prior years, officials spotted seven or eight people from ASEAN-member nations who were potential IS members trying to travel through Thailand.

“One of them was successful, Malaysian Muhammad Wanndy, who became a prominent IS warrior in Syria,” the source, who asked not to be named, told BenarNews.

Malaysian police said Wanndy is based in Syria but leads a militant cell back home called the Black Crows (Gagak Hitam). Police allege he orchestrated a grenade attack that injured eight patrons at a Kuala Lumpur area nightclub last year and was claimed by Islamic State.

Panithan said IS unsuccessfully tried to promote its ideology in Thailand’s predominantly Muslim Deep South, where nearly 7,000 people have died since 2004 in violence associated with a separatist conflict in the predominantly Muslim and Malay-speaking region.

“The IS promotes propaganda regularly but our agencies keep an eye on them. In general, they campaign for support and they tie the campaign to circumstances in the Deep South,” he said.

“The IS members have communication loops, we keep an eye on that,” he added.

Panithan said the two countries would continue to stress communication during the Joint Committee on Military Cooperation on the sidelines of a meeting of ASEAN senior defense officials in the Philippines next month.

“The upcoming meeting will be a good move because the cooperation will be more formal and more data will be shared among agencies,” he said.


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