PETALING JAYA, Malaysia -- Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines yesterday launched the Trilateral Air Patrol (TAP) operations over Sulu Seas to tackle cross-border crime issues including terrorist threats and kidnappings.

Defence Minister Hishammuddin Tun Hussein said the joint initiative was aimed at countering the movement of violent extremists and terrorists across borders of the three nations.

"What is most concerning is the activation of this maritime domain by terrorist organisations as a base of operations.

"The extensive nature of the effects inflicted by these threats has made it clear that it should not be addressed by one country alone. It requires regional cooperation among like-minded countries, he said at the launch of the TAP, at the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) Base in Subang, here yesterday.

Also present were Minister of Defence for Indonesia General (Rtd) Ryamizard Ryacudu and Secretary of National Defence for the Philippines, Delfin Lorenzana.

Hishammuddin said with the region consumed by the growing threat posed by Daesh militants, the initiative was significance not just in the Sulu Seas, but in the context of challenges in Southeast Asia more broadly.

"We cannot refute the fact that the coalition's successes against Daesh militants in the Middle East have led to the return of foreign fighters to our region, he said.

He added that the Marawi City siege was evident that affiliated terrorist organisations and sympathisers have exploited the porous borders and linked up with local terrorist groups.

TAP serves as the second component of the Trilateral Cooperative Arrangement (TCA) to complement the first aspect, the Trilateral Maritime Patrol (TMP) launched last June in Tarakan.

Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have agreed to adopt a continuous monthly rotation for the joint TAP whereby Malaysia will be the first nation to lead the operation next month using aircraft from the RMAF, followed by the Philippines in December and subsequently Indonesia in January 2018.

Hishammuddin said although the amount of global trade passing through the Sulu Seas is significantly lower than the amount passing the Straits of Malacca, it is nonetheless substantial to secure the sea waters as about US$40 billion worth of goods transit the waters annually.

"Regional security cooperation plays a vital role in upholding the region's security order. Indeed, the management of the Sulu Seas, is clearly our responsibility. It is up to us to guarantee the area is secured and safe, he added.


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