JAKARTA – The defense ministers and heads of the Indonesian, Malaysian and Philippine Armed Forces witnessed on Monday the launch of a joint maritime patrol and information sharing operation to combat terror in the Sulu Sea.
Representatives from the three countries inaugurated the Tarakan Maritime Command Center in the north of the Indonesian region of the Borneo Island, which is to remain in contact with the Tawao centers in the Malaysian part of Borneo and Bungao in the Tawi Tawi islands in the southwestern Philippines.
“It will be the starting point of our shared determination to contribute to the realization of peace and security stability in our respective regions,” said Indonesia’s military chief, Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo.
The triangle formed by the centers is one of the main maritime crossing points for militants traversing the border between the three countries.
Gatot said the exchange of information would be important for “early anticipatory measures” and could prevent militants who have been fighting in the southern Philippines for almost four weeks from masquerading as refugees to get out of the country.
At least 345 people have been killed in the Philippines, including rebels, members of the security forces and civilians, in clashes which began on May 23 with an armed insurgency by Maute, a group linked to the Islamic State terror organization.
The Indonesian army last week warned that IS sleeper cells were present in almost all regions of the country, which has the largest Muslim population in the world.
Malaysia announced on Friday that a Malaysian and three Indonesians who allegedly wanted to join the ongoing armed conflict in Maraw had been arrested.