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Asia Crisis

Philippines seeks further $60 mln to tighten borders

MANILA, Sept 18 (Reuters) - The Philippines is seeking more than $60 million from Congress to acquire helicopters and more boats to prevent Islamic militants slipping into the country from Indonesia, a senior defence official said on Friday.

Australia and the United States have been helping set up a maritime surveillance system in the southern Philippines to stop Muslim militants using porpous maritime borders to seek shelter in troubled areas in the Mindanao region.

On Thursday, the defence department sent its budget proposal to the lower house of Congress, seeking 2.9 billion pesos ($60.8 million) to acquire an additional "interdiction capability" to complement its surveillance and communications system.

"We're acquiring nine multi-purpose attack craft (MPAC) and three utility helicopters to improve our capability to track down and intercept smugglers, pirates and Islamic militants crossing our borders," a senior defence official told Reuters.

Three MPAC ships, built in Taiwan, were delivered this year to patrol maritime borders, said the official, who declined to be identified. He said Washington had provided $15.5 million to put radio communication systems on three remote islands.

"We already have the eyes, so we need the capability to stop them from seeking sanctuary in our territory," the official said, adding security forces were expecting Muslim militants to cross into the Philippines due to a crackdown in Indonesia.

On Thursday, one of Asia's most wanted militants, Noordin Mohammad Top, was killed in a shootout with Indonesian police.

The Philippines plans to put up five additional radar and communications stations in the south with financial help provided by the United States and Australia.

Since 2002, the United States has deployed hundreds of troops to help train Filipino soldiers. It has also provided about $500 million for military assistance and development projects to win over the Muslim minority in the mainly Catholic country. (Reporting by Manny Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Ron Popeski)

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