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Singapore, Australia to boost intelligence sharing

Publication Date : 23-08-2014


Singapore and Australia have agreed to increase intelligence and information sharing to combat terrorism amid heightened fears of radicalisation in the region triggered by conflicts in the Middle East.

The two sides also agreed on an ambitious 10-year project to enhance bilateral relations.

Both nations have seen worrying signs of home-grown radicalisation recently. In March, Singapore authorities found an Indian national and a Singapore citizen, both of whom were working in the republic, attempting to take part in the conflict in Syria.

Earlier this month, the online image of a young boy - reportedly the son of an Australian terrorist who had joined the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) jihadist group - holding up a severed head shocked the world.

ISIS seeks to establish a caliphate in the Middle East. Having swept through Syria and Iraq in recent months, it now controls large parts of the two countries.

Its militants, many of whom are foreign fighters, have massacred Shi'ite Muslims, Christians, Yazidis and other religious communities in a brutal campaign, prompting the United States to respond with air strikes in Iraq.

Yesterday, Australian assistant defence minister Stuart Robert said Australia and Singapore will help each other "combat what is a growing trend (of radicalisation) across our region".

"Friends look after friends... we'll look to greater intelligence sharing that covers terrorism, extremism, foreign fighters and the growth of home-grown extremism," he told reporters.

Defence minister Ng Eng Hen noted that the threats of radicalisation and terrorism, if they materialise, "could affect all citizens, all races, all religions".

"There was a very clear understanding that when it comes to our local population, we're not protecting only non-Muslims, we're protecting all our citizens from these extreme elements," he said.

Australia's foreign minister Julie Bishop said it was also in discussions with Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to boost cooperation against indigenous militant groups such as Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf.

The senior officials were speaking at a press conference after attending the Eighth Meeting of the Singapore-Australia Joint Ministerial Committee - a biennial forum for foreign, trade and defence ministers - at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The two nations also agreed to work on a 10-year road map, called Project 2025, that will include upgrading their existing free trade pact to a closer economic partnership and deepening cooperation in areas such as defence and education.

Foreign minister K. Shanmugam said officials would flesh out the road map into a joint declaration to be signed by prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott at their meeting next year, when the two nations mark 50 years of formal relations.

Bishop called this a "new era" in bilateral ties.

However, the two countries did not conclude a long-awaited open skies agreement, although Australian trade minister Andrew Robb said they were moving towards it.

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