Manila – The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia announced on Thursday that they will closely cooperate with each other in order to thwart the flow of gunmen, weapons and funds to extremists to their countries, reported the Associated Press.
They also expressed their concern over the recent attacks in the Philippine southern city of Marawi.
This stance was declared during a meeting in Manila that included Philippine Foreign Minister Alan Peter Cayetano and his Indonesian and Malaysian counterparts in the presence of a number of senior military officials.
The gatherers discussed a plan of action for Marawi, which has seen the emergence of ISIS-linked militants, who are waging battles with the Philippine army. At least 369 civilians and militants have been killed in the unrest.
As ISIS loses territory in Syria and Iraq, Southeast Asian governments worry that battle-hardened Asian fighters, including ones from Indonesia and Malaysia, may return to exploit social restiveness, weak law enforcement, a surfeit of illegal arms and raging insurgencies to establish a foothold in the region.
Many worry that the siege in Marawi could draw in the returning extremists.
“We expect that those who will be displaced there will go to Asia and because of the Marawi uprising, the Philippines is like a magnet,” said Philippine military chief of staff Gen. Eduardo Ano, who took part in the security conference.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi condemned the attack in Marawi and said her government is ready to help.
“Your challenges are Indonesia’s challenges and your challenges are also the challenges of the region,” she said, adding that the threat of terrorism is imminent and that “no action is not an option.”
Malaysia’s top diplomat, Anifah Aman, said it’s more difficult now for governments to fight militants, who are willing to die and are harnessing technology and social media to spread their messages faster and recruit followers across the world.
“Motivated by a perverse ideology, terrorists today welcome death for others and also for themselves,” Anifah said.
Cayetano said the three countries agreed to go beyond a military solution in dealing with extremists who breed in dismal social conditions. “We take note that drugs, crime, poverty, injustice play a big role in making the ground fertile for recruitment or for radicalizing, especially young people,” Cayetano said.
In a joint statement, the three governments expressed “concern over the recent incidents of terrorism and violent extremism in their countries” and said they would plan strategies together to combat them.
They pledged to improve intelligence-sharing about potential threats, stop the flow of militants, funds and weapons, and contain the spread of propaganda on social media.