Turnbull claims credit in war with Islamic State

Manila: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has taken credit for helping liberate the besieged Philippine city of Marawi after a bloody four month siege, saying ‘s role was a “game changer.”

Speaking during an Asian summit on security in Manila, Mr Turnbull revealed that provided “real time” intelligence to troops fighting hundreds of Islamic State-backed militants in the Philippine’s largest Muslim city.

“It was a big deal. Hugely important,” Mr Turnbull said.

Previously had only disclosed the n Defence Forces’ deployment of two spy planes to assist the Philippine forces in the attempt by Islamic State to gain a foothold in the southern Philippines.

More than 900 militants and 165 Philippine soldiers were killed in the fighting.

Mr Turnbull told reporters was prepared to provide assistance to other south-east Asia nations as they fight the threat of terrorism.

Since the Marawi siege, has sent 80 troops to train their Philippine counterparts in urban warfare.

During a series of meetings in Vietnam and the Philippines, Mr Turnbull has been collaborating with US President Donald Trump in pressing Asian nations on the threat of North Korea’s nuclear program. They also want to cooperate more to counter the terrorism threat as hundreds of battle-hardened Asian militants who have been fighting in Iraq and Syria return home.

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) will express “grave concern” over North Korea’s development of “weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, and ballistic missile technologies” after hard lobbying from Mr Turnbull and Mr Trump.

But Mr Turnbull has been pressing for more than words, telling reporters the key way to bring North Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-un “to his senses, without conflict, is economic pressure and that requires concerted action.”

“We’ve got to make sure we keep the squeeze on North Korea,” he said. Drug killings

Both Mr Turnbull and Mr Trump have steered well clear of Asia’s humanitarian crises during the series of meetings.

During separate meetings with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who is hosting the meetings, neither leader criticised the Philippines’ so-called “war on drugs,” which has left more than 14,000 mostly poor Filipinos dead.

“Look, I had a very good discussion with President Duterte,” Mr Turnbull said when asked whether he had raised the killings.

Observers saw the opportunity for Mr Trump to press Mr Duterte on human rights as a test of US power, both in the Philippines and the region.

However, Mr Trump began a meeting with Mr Duterte saying he had “a great relationship” with his Philippine counterpart.

Harry Roque, Mr Duterte’s spokesman, told reporters “there was no mention of human rights … no mention of extra-legal killings” in the meeting with the US president.

Human rights and civil society groups want Mr Duterte put on trial at the International Criminal Court over the killings for crimes against humanity. No mention of Myanmar

None of the national leaders attending the ASEAN summit in Manila meetings have publicly spoken about Myanmar security forces’ escalation of a brutal offensive against Rohingya Muslims in the country’s Rakhine state, which has sparked the exodus of more than 600,000 people, the greatest movement of a civilian population in Asia since the 1970s.

The United Nations’ chief Antonio Guterres expressed alarm at the plight of Rohingya in remarks before Myanmar’s de factor leader Aung San Suu Kyi, warning the exodus was “a worrying escalation in a protracted tragedy and a potential source of instability in the region, and radicalisation”.

Earlier Ms Suu Kyi told ASEAN leaders her government was implementing the recommendations of a commission led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which includes giving basic rights back to long-persecuted Rohingya.

But her government has refused to condemn atrocities by its security forces, has blocked UN human rights investigators going to Rakhine and has yet to facilitate the safe return of more than 800,000 Rohingya now living in squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh.

A spokesman for Mr Turnbull said the prime minister met Ms Suu Kyi in Manila and raised the Rohingya crisis. But no details were available of the conversation. The spokesman said Mr Turnbull had not said anything publicly about the crisis because he had not been asked.

“Private and direct advocacy is clearly more valuable in these circumstances,” the spokesman said, adding the crisis was likely to be discussed in private at the last day of talks in Manila. South China Sea

Asian leaders meeting in Manila plan to sign an accord aimed at protecting migrant workers across the region.

They are also expected to announce some progress towards a “code of conduct” for the South China Sea. China, which claims almost all of the waters, opposes any legally bind code and wants the issue kept off the ASEAN agenda.

Asian leaders have been discussing a code of conduct on the South China Sea for more than 15 years. At the end of their annual meeting, they routinely put out a statement on progress.

In Manila, Mr Turnbull has been seen as Mr Trump’s new buddy.

A private dinner between the two leaders planned for Monday night was cancelled but Mr Trump invited Mr Turnbull into his waterfront hotel suite where they talked for about 30 minutes with no officials present.

Mr Turnbull avoided answering whether he raised with Mr Trump the Obama administration’s offer to take refugees from Manus Island, which angered Mr Trump but agreed to honour the deal after a contentious telephone call with Mr Turnbull shortly after taking office.

“The important thing is the US resettlement program is progressing so that is all that is happening,” Mr Turnbull said.

“It is underway. A number of people have already gone to the US.”

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