Duterte eyes Asean task force 

The Philippines’ president, Rodrigo Duterte, says he will hold talks with Indonesia and Malaysia on the possibility of creating a task force to combat Isis-linked militants.

Duterte said he might be willing to open his borders to the security forces from Indonesia and Malaysia pursuing Islamist fighters.

“We have agreed that we will talk, the three of us. We are just waiting for the right time,” the combative president told the media.

“In all probability, it will be a joint … task force. And I will open my borders to the Malaysian authorities and Indonesian authorities.

“I am giving them access like if we’re chasing someone and we’re out of time, just take them out. Even if it’s a Filipino, I’ll tell the Indonesian navy ‘take them out'”.

Asean has agreed to use spy planes and drones to inhibit the movement of militants across their borders. Security agencies are increasingly worried about the growing influence of Islamic State in Asean as it gets displaced from Iraq and Syria.

In June the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia agreed to pool intelligence and move to stem militant financing.

The Philippine authorities have unsuccessfully searched for Islamic militants near Mount Cararao on Mindanao for 18 hours. The Buldon police launched the search at the weekend after Duterte announced that militants were spreading there from Marawi.

Last November, Manila agreed to allow Malaysia and Indonesia forces into its territory if they were in  “hot pursuit” of Abu Sayyaf rebels.

The Buldon authorities urged the Malaysian-led International Monitoring Team and the joint ceasefire committee of the government and the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front to help them prove there were no Maute radicals in the municipality.

Duterte said the proposed meeting with Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak could be held in Marawi, the city on the southern island of Mindanao which was seized by armed insurgents claiming loyalty to Isis earlier in the year.

More than 600 insurgents, 45 civilians and 136 soldiers and police officers have been killed in more than three months of bloodshed in predominantly Muslim Marawi. The military has said it is confident the crisis will soon be resolved but militants are still fighting in the ruins of Marawi, possibly along with their supposed leader, Isnilon Hapilon, presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said.

“Recent military assessments indicate that he is still very much in Marawi,” Abella said. “Our forces are hot on their heels and it will only be a matter of time before we get him.”

Refugees from Marawi in Iligan. Picture credit: Wikimedia