YOGYAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines agreed Thursday to run coordinated patrols to boost maritime security following the kidnappings at sea of Indonesians by suspected Abu Sayyaf militants.
Foreign ministers and military chiefs of the three countries held talks in Indonesia's ancient royal capital city of Yogyakarta, hashing out the details of joint patrols to protect shipping in the waters between their border areas.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said the threat from robbery, kidnapping and other transnational crime, if not addressed appropriately, can undermine the confidence in trade and commerce, which in turn can adversely affect the economic activities and welfare of peoples in the surrounding areas.
She said the area between Zulu islands in southern Philippines and Indonesia's Sulawesi island is a strategic economic waterway where over 55 million metric tons of crude and over 18 million people pass through.
Abu Sayyaf militants on Sunday freed 10 of 14 Indonesian crewmen who were seized at sea in March in the first of three attacks on tugboats that have sparked a regional maritime security alarm. In April, the militants beheaded Canadian John Ridsdel after failing to get 300 million pesos ($6.3 million) as ransom.
Philippine troops launched an offensive against the Abu Sayyaf after the beheading, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed to help the Philippines bring the killers to justice.
"We will undertake a coordinated patrol in the maritime areas of our common concern," Marsudi told a news conference after the meeting that attended by her counterparts Anifah Aman from Malaysia and Jose Rene D. Almendras from Philippines and military chiefs from the three countries.
"Nationals of Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines have all been victims," she said, "We have to take action to ensure our citizens felt protective, keep undertaking their activities in that area."
A joint declaration the participants issued later expressed "grave concern" over the growing security challenges, such as those arising from armed robbery, transnational crimes and terrorism in the region.
It said they agreed to render immediate assistance for the safety of people and ships in distress within the area and to intensify cooperation in sharing information and intelligence as well as to establish a hotline of communication to improve cooperation during emergency and security threats.
Marsudi said officials of the three countries will meet again to formulate operating procedures of the maritime patrols.
More than a dozen foreign and local hostages remain in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf, including another Canadian and a Norwegian who were kidnapped last September, and a Dutch bird watcher who was kidnapped more than three years ago.
Both the United States and the Philippines label Abu Sayyaf as a terrorist organization.
Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini contributed to this report from Jakarta.