'Eyes in the Sky' patrol
over Malacca to start soon

Ivy Susanti, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Defense ministers from four Southeast Asian countries -- Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore -- will launch the ""eyes in the sky"" coordinated air patrol over the Strait of Malacca next Tuesday from Subang Airbase in Kuala Lumpur.

Col. Suryo Wiranto, Assistant of Operational Affairs at the Indonesian Navy's Western Fleet Command, said that the patrol would be carried out by personnel from the four countries.

The personnel or aircraft could enter each other's territory, but the limit was set at three nautical miles from the coast, he said.

""Each country will prepare one to two aircraft manned by personnel from all the countries. We'll make sure that all the countries will carry on with the daily missions,"" he said.

He also said that the countries would use small aircraft for the patrols.

He reiterated that the air patrol was also open to foreign assistance as long as they did not breach the principles of national sovereignty and territorial integrity.

""We will give foreign governments the opportunity to assist us in logistical matters, such as providing aircraft or surveillance systems. But only these four countries will carry out the mission,"" Wiranto told reporters on the sidelines of the Jakarta Meeting on Straits of Malacca and Singapore here on Thursday.

The ""eyes in the sky"" program was endorsed by armed forces' chiefs from three littoral states, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, during a meeting earlier in August in Kuala Lumpur, under Malaysia's initiative.

The Royal Navy of Thailand was invited to join the coordinated patrol as the closest neighbor.

Malaysia's Defense Minister Najib Razak was quoted as saying by AP after the August meeting that governments outside the region could contribute planes and other equipment for the air patrols to make up for insufficient aircraft in the littoral states.

Meanwhile, Indonesia also comes with its own initiative to improve security in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

Wiranto said that Indonesia had proposed a comprehensive approach called the Malacca Straits Security Initiative (MSSI) involving the Navy from the four countries.

Under the initiative, the navies will conduct coordinated patrols to complement the air patrols, install maritime surveillance systems and share intelligence information.

The navies would also review any bilateral agreements that address cross-border pursuit. ""Patrolling units, operating within their own national sectors, will also continuously track and shadow offenders so as to facilitate the handing over of the offenders to the appropriate state unit in accordance with existing agreements,"" Wiranto explained to participants at the meeting.

The navies would also conduct a public information campaign ""in order to counter negative publicity and to promote the image of maritime security"" in the strait, he said.

The meeting was concluded on Thursday, with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on the development of a regional Marine Electronic Highway (MEH) demonstration project in the two key waterways.

The MEH project is an informational network system to be built along the straits to help with navigation and to track passing ships.

The meeting, attended by representatives from 34 countries and observers from intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations, issued a Jakarta declaration, whereby the participants agreed to pursue a regular dialog and exchange of information on the safety, security and environmental protection of the strait.

The statement also said that the littoral states would enhance the capacity of the navies and police patrolling the strait through maritime exercises and training programs.

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