Returning ISIS fighters 'pose threat to region'

The commander of Indonesia's armed forces (TNI) said yesterday that he plans to call for a meeting of his counterparts from the region to discuss how best to counter the threat of extremism from militant group ISIS.

General Moeldoko told a public lecture in Singapore that ISIS, or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, was a significant threat to regional security.

And its full impact would be felt when its fighters from Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and even a handful from Singapore return home.

"When they return to their countries... it is not easy to predict what actions they might conduct. This is why we need to think about scenarios to anticipate what might happen when they return," he told reporters later.

Gen Moeldoko, who was on a three-day visit that ended yesterday, said there were no detailed plans for this proposed regional conference yet, but he hoped to discuss it with ASEAN defence chiefs when they meet in Malaysia early next year.

Indonesia has been cool towards the United States-led global coalition against ISIS, saying military action alone cannot fix the problem.

But officials are concerned about the threat, with at least 60 Indonesians fighting in Syria and Iraq. Several have joined Malaysian fighters to form a military unit, which analysts fear could expand ISIS' reach in South-east Asia.

Gen Moeldoko told the lecture organised by the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Sheraton Towers hotel: "ISIS is like a cancer... As a Muslim, it has nothing to do with the Islam I know, or the God I pray to."

He has taken a tough stance on the matter since his government announced a clampdown on ISIS activities and related paraphernalia in August, saying that month he would burn ISIS flags.

He has also met leaders of major Muslim groups and got officers to visit religious schools and speak about the dangers of ISIS ideology.

In his speech yesterday, Gen Moeldoko also spoke of how maritime security was a key area of concern for both Indonesia and Singapore. The slightest disturbance in regional waters, he said, could trigger a spill-on effect, alluding to tensions in the South China Sea.

ASEAN had to stay strong and united, Gen Moeldoko said, adding that Indonesia was also modernising its military. "I tell our counterparts Indonesia's military modernisation is not intended to provoke," he said.

"But the regional military build-up... comes about in anticipation of the shifting military balance in the South China Sea."

Gen Moeldoko also told reporters that, having met Mr Joko Widodo last week, he found the new President concerned about the military's strength and about the welfare of the 400,000 soldiers. There are plans to improve housing, salaries and health benefits for them.

On Tuesday, Gen Moeldoko co-chaired a high-level committee meeting with his Singapore counterpart, Lieutenant-General Ng Chee Meng, and they witnessed the signing of terms of reference for bilateral meetings between the Singapore Armed Forces and the TNI under this committee.

Gen Moeldoko said: "The militaries of Indonesia and Singapore have a long history. Both countries can enhance their collaboration to a stage that will contribute to peace and stability in the region."

This article was first published on October 30, 2014.
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