(File pix) Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has stressed that the Sulu Sea should not become the “new Somalia.” Pix by Zulfadhli Zulkifli

KUALA LUMPUR: Defence Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein has stressed that the Sulu Sea should not become the “new Somalia.”

He said he touched on the need to ramp up efforts to prevent the area from turning into the ‘new Somalia’ at the just concluded 10th ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting (ADMM) Retreat in Vientianne, Laos.

The Sulu Sea Trilateral Initiative which involves joint patrols by Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines was among the issues brought up at the retreat.

The Sulu Sea is noted for piracy and kidnappings and hence the initiative to prevent a similar situation like Somalia where merchant ships fear to use navigation routes off that strife-torn country.

While there, Hishammuddin and his Indonesian and Phillippine counterparts also held the 4th Trilateral Ministerial Level Meeting on the initiative.

“The discussions focused heavily on operationalising joint exercises, coordinated maritime patrols and joint air patrols that are soon to be initiated by the three nations,” he said in a statement here today.

Hishammuddin said he also highlighted Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s meeting with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak last week, and the finalising of the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for “Hot Pursuit” into Philippine waters. Hishammuddin said that at the ADMM Retreat, he also brought up the Daesh issue, which remains as ASEAN’s main and most current threat, and elaborated on how efforts against the terrorist group in Mosul, Aleppo and Raqa was a mixed blessing.

” On one hand depriving the group of its territory is crucial to damaging its brand but this increases the likelihood that other regions including Southeast Asia may become either a new home for recruits or an alternative target for attacks,” he said.

He added that he also stated that this was not a new phenomenon as Jemaah Islamiyah, Southeast Asia’s offshoot of Al-Qaeda, was formed in the early 2000s with the help of returnees from the Afghanistan conflict.

On the ASEAN-Japan Defence Ministers Informal Meeting, Hishammuddin said he concurred with Japan’s Defence Minister Tomomi Inada on how the world was a very different place now and threats to security had changed dramatically.

“Threats of terrorism are increasingly decentralised, difficult to track and even more more difficult to prevent,” he said, adding that he called upon Japan to further explore their engagement with ASEAN specifically on Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR).

On PKO, he had highlighted Japan’s significant contributions to the Malaysian Peacekeeping Centre, specifically for the ‘Capacity Building Support for Malaysia’s Role in Multi-Dimensional Peacekeeping Training’.

He said that he hoped that the two items be further developed and discussed to be considered for the ‘Concept Paper for ASEAN-Japan Defence Cooperation’.

Hishammuddin said on the sidelines of both meetings, all 10 ASEAN Defence Ministers paid a courtesy call on Laos President Bounnhang Vorachith, and also witnessed a demonstration of the Direct Communications Link (DCL) between the 10 ASEAN Defence Ministers.

This is a proposal that was initially broached by the Sultan of Brunei Darussalam Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and was subsequently taken up under the framework of the ADMM.

“The purpose of the DCL is to provide a secure means by which any two ASEAN Defence Ministers may communicate with each other to arrive at mutual decisions in handling crises – especially those in the maritime realm – to defuse misunderstandings, prevent escalation and promote rapid response,” Hishammuddin said.

Hishammuddin added that he also had a very productive bilateral meeting with the Union Defence Minister of Myanmar, Lt Gen Sein Win and that the discussions mainly focused on the situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and the Rohingya people. --Bernama

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