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South East Asia Update – September 1st – 15th 2017


The period of September 1st through 15th has seen 318 incidents mapped across the Philippines, with a high percentage of those located in the Metro Manila area. Manila has continued to see the bulk of the incidents related to the War on Drugs, but the first half of this month has seen a significant drop in the number of killings of drug suspects during police operations, and an increase in arrests made. This trend may be due to the increase pressure and scrutiny the police have faced after the recent killing of several teenagers last month who witnesses say were unarmed or not affiliated with the drug trade. These killings have led to the entire police force of Caloocan City being forced to retrain and all officers reassigned to other districts in Manila. Other areas of the Philippines are also witnessing high numbers of drug related incidents, such as Cebu City and its surrounding areas, as well as Bacolod City in Negros Occidental.

Incidents around Metro Manila â September 1st -15th
Elsewhere in the Philippines, the armed conflict between government forces and lawless elements continues to be fought mainly in Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago. The siege of Marawi City is ongoing with casualties continuing to be reported on both sides of the conflict. Two significant incidents regarding the ongoing situation is the additional support the U.S. is providing through the deployment of another Unmanned Aircraft System to help with intelligence, and secondly the reports that the militant numbers have now been increased to 80, up from the previous estimates of 40-60. This increase is due to Maute Group members forcing hostages to fight alongside them. Fighting continues, and there is no set timeframe on when the city may be liberated from Maute Group members.
In Maguindanao, around the area of Salibo town, the operations of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front continue against the faction of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. There have not been as many incidents mapped in the first half of this month, but that is not to say that activity has decreased, but instead may just be under reported. The area continues to be volatile, and must be treated with caution.
Regarding Abu Sayyaf in the Sulu Archipelago, there have been several arrests made, as well as members of the group surrendering to authorities, but the group continues to engage government forces, particularly on Jolo island in the first half of this month. The most significant incident was a skirmish on the 7th of September in Barangay Upper Binuang, Talipao. The skirmish led to the death of 5 Abu Sayyaf fighters while wounding 5 government soldiers, but most importantly it led to 2 Indonesians being freed from their Abu Sayyaf captors. The two were sailors who were kidnapped in November by ASG members in the Sulu Sea.
While the Maute Group, Abu Sayyaf Group, and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters continue to receive the bulk of the international attention due to their allegiances to the Islamic State, the most active armed group and most geographically spread out in the Philippines continues to be the communist insurgency led by the New Peopleâs Army. On September 8th, President Duterte told the Communist Party and its armed wing, the NPA, that for peace talks to resume they would have to declare a ceasefire. The response by the founder of the Communist Party, Jose Maria Sison, was that the party and the NPA could not be persuaded to come back to the table with Duterte. Additionally, the actions taken by the NPA over the course of the first half of September does not show any decreasing trend in their activities. Most of their activity was in eastern Mindanao, with also several skirmishes around Kasibu town, Nueva Vizcaya which displaced a couple thousand people from their villages.

New Peopleâs Army incidents in Mindanao and Negros Occidental â September 1st â 15th
Their most significant incidents this first half of September were regarding three attacks on businesses. On September 6th, members of the group overran a construction site in Mapawa, Surigao City and torched a compactor and backhoe, while also stealing several items from the security guards. On September 9th, a group of rebels took over the Sumitomo Fruits Inc. compound in Tugaya, Valencia City, and stole a truck and a handheld radio from the compound before fleeing before authorities arrived. Finally, on September 14th, suspected NPA rebels attacked the largest solar farm in southeast Asia located in Cadiz City, Negros Occidental, owned by Helios Solar Energy. The group fired their weapons from the perimeter fence, and damaged 90 solar panels. The group continues to show disdain for foreign enterprises and a way of life contrary to that which they live and wish for the Philippines. Their activity will continue for now, with continued skirmishes with government troops, executions of agents of the state, and attacks on business and foreign owned enterprises continuing to be the norm.

Incidents in Myanmar â September 1st â 15th
The first half of September has seen continued violence in Rakhine State which began on August 25th when hundreds of Rohingya Muslim militants launched assaults on over two dozen police outposts in Rakhine State, leading to the death of a dozen police officers and soldiers in addition to hundreds of militants. The violence has since spilled over into the first half of September, and the government response has been heavy handed particularly towards the civilian population. To no surprise, and with the ongoing situation in Rakhine State, most incidents reported in September have been in three townships on the border with Bangladesh: Buthidaung, Maungdaw, and Rathedaung. The most significant incidents in the first half of this month have been regarding landmine and arson attacks. There have been reports, confirmed by Bangladeshi government officials, of the Myanmar Army laying landmines on the border with Bangladesh. This has led to several incidents of civilians being killed or wounded by landmines while trying to cross the border into Bangladesh. The laying of landmines at the border, as well as indiscriminate shelling and small arms fire towards the area between the two borders has made the area of no-manâs land between the countries very dangerous for Rohingya refugees who had not been allowed into Bangladesh earlier on. The Arakan Salvation Rohingya Army declared a month-long ceasefire on September 10th to allow humanitarian organisations to assist populations in need, yet the Myanmar government did not agree to it.
While the violence needs to cease, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the international community need to respond to the humanitarian crisis unfolding with the displacement of close to half a million Rohingya civilians. Bangladesh, already struggling to cope with its own population and crises of their own due to natural hazards, have been made to handle the flow of refugees into their country. Towards the middle of the month, the government decided to have the army build a refugee camp to hold all those who have crossed the border. International aid organizations on their end have worked to meet the basic needs of those displaced. Unfortunately, regarding Myanmar, Bangladesh, and the Rohingya, a more sustainable and long term solution needs to be decided on, particularly regarding citizenship for the Rohingya, who currently are stateless because both countries refuse to take them in as their own.

Incidents in northern Rakhine State âSeptember 1st â 15th
Based on incidents in the first half of the month, the near future will not be a time for improvement as steps taken by the Myanmar government will only deteriorate the situation. This includes a plan to repair and extend an area of the border fence between Myanmar and Bangladesh, and more alarmingly a statement from the Myanmar National Security Advisor saying that Rohingya who have no proof of citizenship or no documents showing how long and where theyâve lived in Myanmar would not be allowed to return. These actions show the Myanmar government taking a firm step towards blocking Rohingya civilians from coming back into the country. Even if Rohingya can return, they would return to empty villages burnt to the ground by both Rohingya militants and the Myanmar Army. The Myanmar Army has denied being involved in these arson attacks, instead sharing pictures of alleged Rohingya militants or even villagers setting the fires. Some witnesses on the ground have said that some of those pictures were staged by the army itself to push the blame away from them. In the short term violence will continue, and may be made worse by Al Qaeda releasing a statement around the 12th of the month urging militants from Pakistan India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines to support the Rohingya Muslim militants in the fight against the government.
The first half of September has seen Vietnam struck by several meteorological events. This is in part due to the country being in the tail end of its rainy season and typhoon season. Most impacted has been the northern provinces of the country, which has seen thunderstorms, landslides caused by heavy rains, wind storms, and most significantly the tropical storm âDoksuriâ, which was predicted to strike the country between the 15th and 16th. Days before it was predicted to arrive, fishing had been halted, and schools had been closed.

Incidents in northern Vietnam â September 1st â 15th
Other significant incidents in Vietnam in the first half of the month have focused on drug trafficking and animal parts trafficking. On September 1st, police arrested 5 drug traffickers in Quang Binh Province for smuggling 12,000 pills of methamphetamine. Ten days later, 7 drug traffickers were arrested in Muâoâng Nhe District, Dien Bien Province for smuggling 5kg of heroin. In both cases the drug traffickers were from Laos. These two incidents in the first half of the month continue a trend seen since the beginning of the year in the country as well as Cambodia, of drug traffickers from Laos smuggling in methamphetamine and heroin into the countries. Dense forests and rugged terrain make it ideal for smugglers to cross between the countries undetected.
Regarding animal parts trafficked, the first half of September has seen the seizure of 1.3 tons of ivory at the Cat Lai Port in Ho Chi Minh City. On September 15th, a man was arrested at the Tan Son Nhat International Airport, also in Ho Chi Minh City, attempting to smuggle in dozens of fangs from cheetahs and leopards, and claws from lions. Like the instances of drug trafficking, the country has seen a high number of incidents of smuggling of live animals and animal parts. The major transit hubs for these have been the Cat Lai Port, and the international airports in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi.

Incidents in southern Vietnam â September 1st â 15th
The first half of September has seen most incidents located on the Malay peninsula, consistent with previous months. Most incidents relate to arrests, corruption, and assaults. Several of the arrests were made against illegal immigrants who have made it onto Malaysian soil and are working, likely in an entertainment outlet, or arrested while attempting to make it to Malaysia. Regarding domestic security, the Home Ministry announced on September 10th, that it planned to install CCTV cameras at all police stations. This comes a little over a week after a police officer was murdered inside the police station in Pinggiran Subang Jaya on August 31st. The most significant reported incidents were three raids that took place between September 8th and 10th in various locations across the country, which netted three terrorists. On September 8th, in Bagan Serai, Perak, a man who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State was arrested for having attempted to make improvised explosive devices. Another man was arrested on September 10th in Melaka for having promoted Islamic State ideology through social media, and for having planned to join Islamic State factions in the Philippines, or join militants in Rakhine, Myanmar. Finally, the third man was arrested in Petaling Jaya on the 10th, for having planned to join militants in Syria later in the year. The arrests come a little over a week after Abu Sayyaf and Islamic State militants were arrested in Kuala Lumpur for planning attacks on Malaysian soil, particularly planning to attack the closing ceremony of the Southeast Asia Games.

Incidents on the Malay peninsula â September 1st â 15th
Other significant incidents follow similar trends to Vietnam this month regarding animal and drug smuggling. On September 6th, customs officers seized 1,433 tortoises, 86 iguanas, and 300 snakes from a home in Kota Baru. This is one of the larger seizures of live animals that Malaysia has seen in 2017. On September 15th, the Malaysian Army foiled an attempt by an individual to smuggle 672 live magpies into West Kalimantan, Indonesia through Tebedu. On the same night, and in the same city, authorities stopped two Indonesians from smuggling poisons into Indonesia through the same route, located not far from and Immigration Customs, Quarantine and Security Center. The latest incidents located in Tebedu, show that smugglers for animals or other illicit goods, may be looking at other routes to smuggle their products. So far, this year most incidents involving animal trafficking have been located at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.

Incidents on the Malaysia side of Borneo â September 1st â 15th
Regarding drug trafficking, on September 11th and 12th, 9 drug trafficking suspects were arrested in Kelantan, Kedah, and Kuala Lumpur, effectively dismantling a drug syndicate. The police seized RM5 million worth of drugs including Shabu and Yaba, both methamphetamine based, marijuana and liquid cocaine. Two of the men arrested were Nigerian nationals who were responsible for smuggling in the liquid cocaine from Brazil. Authorities have said that all the drugs besides the liquid cocaine were intended for the domestic market. The liquid cocaine is believed to have been meant to be smuggled to Thailand. The bust was made with the support of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency.
Finally, a very significant incident which took place in the first half of the month was the attempted hijacking of a Thai oil tanker off the coast of Terengganu on September 7th. The hijacking was foiled by the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency after a surveillance aircraft spotted the ship after it had gone missing. 10 Indonesian pirates were arrested onboard the vessel, while 3 managed to escape. All 14 crew members were rescued and safe. Unlike off the coast of the Philippines, where most at-sea hijackings are undertaken by Abu Sayyaf to kidnap the crew and ransom them, this incident seem to be only focused on the cargo. Had the pirates been successful in their attempt, it would have been a lucrative operation as the tanker was carrying 2.2 million liters of diesel worth RM7 million.

Maritime Incidents around the Malay peninsula â January 1st â September 15th
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