Thai-Aussie anti-terrorism pact in the works

Thai-Aussie anti-terrorism pact in the works

Keenan meets Prawit as fears over IS mount

Thailand and Australia plan to sign an anti-terror pact and have pledged to cooperate closely in tackling regional terrorism, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon says.

Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwon talks to Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan during a meeting at the Defence Ministry on Friday. The talks focused on anti-terrorism cooperation between the two countries. (Photo by  Apichart Jinakul)

He was speaking after meeting Australian Justice Minister Michael Keenan on Friday.

Gen Prawit said the talks centred on cooperation to thwart transnational crime, narcotics and terrorism. Australian authorities expressed concerns over Islamic State (IS) activities in the region following the deadly terrorist attack in Jakarta, Indonesia on Jan 14, he said.

"Our cooperation [with Australia] will be strengthened and a memorandum of understanding on anti-terrorism cooperation will be signed with Australia. However, discussions over the details must be carried out first," Gen Prawit said.

The deputy premier insisted Thai authorities are making every effort to prevent IS-linked attacks. He also reiterated there is no IS presence in Thailand.

Speaking after the meeting with Gen Prawit, Mr Keenan said terrorism is a regional challenge that requires close cooperation to deal with it. He said his trip to Thailand is aimed at sharing views and information with Thai authorities on how to cooperate regarding mutual security interests.

"I am very keen to be here in Thailand to have a conversation with my Thai counterpart about the way we can enhance cooperation in the interests of the security of Australia and the interests of the security of Thailand," he said. "What we can do, I think, is to improve cooperation. After sharing the information we have, it is going to benefit all of us."

Mr Keenan also discussed with Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya the regional drug situation, in which both countries have committed to exchange relevant information to suppress drug problems.

Gen Paiboon said Australia recently set up a new agency to handle drug issues and Thailand will cooperate with the agency in sharing information. The two justice ministers also talked about extradition and combating human trafficking.

Deputy national police chief Srivara Ransibrahmanakul, who oversees security affairs, was among the high-ranking officers who held talks with the Australian minister. Pol Gen Srivara said information regarding transnational terrorism was exchanged in the discussion.

During the meeting, Thai officials also sought Australia's assistance in providing technology and equipment to help investigate bombing cases, he said, adding Australian officials promised they will support Thai bomb disposal squads.

Concerns over links between the southern insurgency and the IS have increased following reports that three IS-linked men from Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore  gave donations to religious leaders at a mosque in Narathiwat's Sungai Kolok district and asked that local students be taught about the IS.

Gen Prawit yesterday dismissed reports the trio have been arrested. He said three people were arrested in connection with the murder of the secretary of a tambon administration organisation in the far South and it had nothing to do with the IS.

Panitan Wattanayagorn, an adviser to Gen Prawit, said the Australian Justice Minister's visit to Bangkok reflected Canberra’s concern over the IS threat to its citizens in Southeast Asia as some 800,000 Australians visit Thailand annually.

Mr Panitan denied a report by the Isara News Agency quoting him as admitting "intelligence suggested that a group of suspects with alleged links to the IS visited religious leaders in Sungai Kolok”.

What he said was Thai security officials were monitoring the activities of suspected IS militants who were on a watch list shared by Malaysia, but so far they have found nothing suspicious.

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