Sunday, 19 October 2014

S'pore looking at how to help counter ISIS: PM Lee

Militant group poses a threat to security and social cohesion, he says
By Zakir Hussain In Milan, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2014

SINGAPORE is seriously considering how it can be a helpful partner in the fight against the militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

Speaking at a leaders' retreat yesterday on the final day of the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) summit here, Mr Lee said Singapore welcomed the recent formation of a broad global coalition, including the United States and several Muslim countries, to combat the threat posed by ISIS.

He said there was "no purely military solution to this problem, because the situation in Iraq and Syria is complex".

"But it is still necessary to contain and weaken ISIS," he added.

Mr Lee told Singapore media later that what form the help could take "is something we are studying actively now".

Singapore's priority, he said, was the fight against terrorism and, in particular, "to protect our people and society".

"We are concerned that ISIS, or other extremist groups, can be the seed which can infect some of our people and mislead them, and cause them to have strange and dangerous ideas," he said.

His remarks come as countries grapple with the security threat posed by their nationals travelling to Syria and Iraq.

ISIS has made considerable gains in these two countries while a US-led coalition has been conducting air strikes over the past four weeks to cripple the group.

US Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to discuss the global coalition against ISIS with visiting Chinese state councillor Yang Jiechi over the weekend and call for more cooperation to stop and track the flow of fighters.

Mr Kerry will likely cover similar ground with new Indonesian President Joko Widodo and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak next week when he visits Jakarta for Mr Joko's inauguration.

More than 200 people from South-east Asia are estimated to have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS, including at least two Singaporeans.

Singapore, Mr Lee told ASEM leaders, takes the ISIS threat seriously because it has a direct impact on its security and social cohesion.

"Singaporean Muslims at large actively support religious and racial harmony.

"Our Muslim religious and community leaders have condemned the ISIS unequivocally, including the Singapore Mufti, who has reminded Muslims not to be influenced by those who arbitrarily call for jihad in the name of Islam," he said.

He also noted that the Religious Rehabilitation Group had raised awareness of the dangers of the Syrian conflict "and debunked misconceptions that fighting in Syria is a form of jihad".

Despite such efforts, extremist groups like ISIS remain a threat, he said.

"Battle-hardened and radicalised returnees can return to Singapore and carry out attacks on home soil, or collaborate with terrorist groups in our region, like the Jemaah Islamiah network and its reincarnations," he said.

The risk was not just direct casualties from a terrorist attack, but also "long-term damage to racial and religious harmony".

Mr Lee told the leaders this was why Singapore co-sponsored a United Nations Security Council resolution requiring all nations to adopt laws to make it a serious crime for their nationals to, among other things, join extremist groups like ISIS.









Asia-Europe forum 'useful for discussing global issues'
Good turnout has allowed fruitful meetings between leaders: PM Lee
By Zakir Hussain In Milan, The Straits Times, 18 Oct 2014

THE Asia-Europe Meeting may not figure as prominently as other global meets, but Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong says it is still a useful forum to discuss global and bilateral issues.

Leaders from both continents have discussed the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria militant group, the spread of Ebola and the crisis in Ukraine, among other issues.

"It's become a very big group so it's not easy to find major projects where all 50-something countries can work together. But it's a forum people find useful to meet one another," Mr Lee told Singapore reporters yesterday.

He said the good turnout this year has enabled him to have "quite fruitful meetings" with several leaders in the past two days.

"By touching base regularly, we update one another, we understand how they are thinking, and we also get a chance to put (forth) our point of view."

At his meeting with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on Thursday, Mr Lee thanked him for hosting the Singapore Armed Forces' training in Kanchanaburi and the ongoing civil service exchange, Mr Lee's press secretary Chang Li Lin said. They discussed potential areas of collaboration, such as infrastructure developments in the region, and opportunities to do more in economic cooperation and tourism.

Mr Lee met Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Thursday and Italian Premier Matteo Renzi yesterday. He also met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang yesterday and shared his reflections on his visit to China last month. Both men discussed the bilateral cooperation, including a joint project to develop China's western region.

"Both leaders agreed the Western Region Project should fit into China's priorities and plans, and have a clear objective like the Suzhou Industrial Park and the Tianjin Eco-City," Ms Chang said.

Mr Lee told Singapore media that Premier Li explained how the idea of government-to-government projects between the two countries fits in with China's plans and what it would like to do to develop the western region.

"I said yes, we understand, we would like to cooperate and be helpful as we have been helpful in Suzhou, with the Tianjin project, but each one has a separate, clear focus," Mr Lee said.

In Suzhou, it was urban and economic development, and in Tianjin, it was sustainable urban development. As for the third project, Mr Lee said: "Looking for where it is, is one issue. But defining the purpose and strategic objective beyond the commercial viability and attractiveness, that is where I think we have to work carefully with the Chinese and understand their priorities... and then we can fit in."

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean will meet his counterpart for the Sino-Singapore Joint Council for Bilateral Cooperation in Suzhou this month, and Mr Lee himself will meet Premier Li again in Naypyitaw next month. "We will take it step by step, but the work is progressing," he said.



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