03/01/2014, 00.00
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Kuala Lumpur and Manila set up security hotline for South China Sea

Malaysia and Philippines strengthen ties to counter militant assaults and Beijing’s hegemonic aims in the area. The Malaysian government key in peace talks between Manila and MILF. Goals of "timely exchange of information" and strengthening of trade relations.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews / Agencies) - One year on from an invasion of the Malaysian State of Sabah by groups of Filipino Muslim fighters, Kuala Lumpur and Manila are set to establish a "security hot line" between the two governments. The Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak announced the move during a joint press conference with Philippine President Benigno Aquino III, during a two-day official visit to the Malaysian capital . The prime minister added that a "timely exchange of information" was crucial for intelligence to avoid illegitimate territorial claims on land and at sea.

The face-to- face meeting between the two Asian leaders seems to reinforce the new axis that has arisen between the two countries committed to countering Beijing's claims in the South China Sea. Moreover the Malaysian capital recently hosted peace talks between Manila and the leaders of the separatist movement Muslim Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF ), which should be completed by mid-March with the official signing of an agreement.

Najib confirmed that both sides "are looking at the possibility of establishing a hot line between our security forces in the event of any security incident happening. We need to ensure immediate interdiction by our Malaysian side as well as the Philippines". In February last year, a Filipino armed group calling itself the "Royal Army of the Sulu Sultanate" crossed by sea from the southern Philippines and landed in Sabah's northeastern Lahad Datu district, demanding that Malaysia recognise its historical rights over part of Sabah. The ensuing firefight left 70 Filipino militants and 10 Malaysian police and army personnel dead. "Once you have peace and security, trade will flourish in the southern Philippines as well as Sabah" Najib said.

Aquino and Najb also discussed development of the Mindanao region in the southern Philippines. Malaysia has acted as a broker in the peace talks since 2001. Najib said a comprehensive agreement will be signed by the end of March, adding that he has been invited by Aquino to Manila to witness the signing ceremony.

Finally, the two Asian leaders discussed territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Kuala Lumpur and Manila are committed to countering the expansionist ambitions of Beijing , which claims increasingly larger portions of the ocean to exploit oil and natural gas seabed reserves. Aquino has emphasized that the two governments agree in the "peaceful settlement of disputes", based on "international norms" and "honest dialogue". The goal is to create a South -East Asia and Pacific development region, where nobody "is left behind". ASEAN - an association that brings together 10 countries of Southeast Asia - recently intervened on the issue urging Beijing to adopt a code of conduct in the South China Sea to reduce the risk of conflict.


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