Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia launch joint maritime patrols

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"The rest, based on information we are getting, are blending in with refugees to get out", Reuters cited Indonesian military chief Gatot Nurmantyo as saying.

As the Marawi City strife entered its fourth week yesterday, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia have kicked off joint maritime patrols to combat terrorism and other transnational crimes.

The Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia will begin joint patrols and information-sharing to curb the influence of local Islamist terror groups, according to a joint statement released by the three governments.

In addition to dozens of Indonesians, mainly fishermen and seamen, kidnapped in the past few years, the Sulu-based faction of the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) recently kidnapped two Canadians, a Norwegian and a Philippines national from a marina in the southern Philippines.

The devastating collapse in security has alarmed neighbours such as Indonesia and Malaysia, and defence and army chiefs from the three countries are due to meet in Tarakan on Monday for a ceremony to mark the launch of patrols in the seas between the countries.

The military commander said that the operation is expected to halt militants fighting in Marawi city in Southern Philippines from crossing the sea borders of the three nations for escape.

On the ongoing operation against militants in Marawi city, the general congratulated the Armed force of the Philippines over its achievement in the operation that already killed 257 militants.

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Indonesia has deployed three Sukhoi fighters to help with security in case militants try to flee southwards towards Indonesia, the head of the Tarakan air base Colonel Didik Krisyanto told the state news agency Antara at the weekend.

Two Indonesians and a Malaysian suspected of planning to cross over by sea in the Malaysian state of Sabah were arrested Friday by Malaysian authorities amid reports that they meant to join Islamic State-linked fighters battling military forces in Marawi.

Datuk Seri Hishammuddin said: "We want to convey a very clear message that if they want to set foot here, they don't face only one country, but at least three countries that have agreed to fight as hard as they can".

"We see these (command centres) functioning as a triangle, like a spider's web, where everything inside the triangle will be monitored", said military chief Nurmantyo.

A port town, Tarakan is just south of the Malaysian side of Borneo and looks out across to Mindanao in the southern Philippines, a sprawling island that has suffered from hostage taking and piracy for decades.

Monday's opening ceremony of the joint patrols was held on board an Indonesian warship and was attended by security officials from Singapore and Brunei, who acted as observers.

Indonesia's naval forces are also on guard for possible infiltration by fleeing terrorists.

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