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Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha (L) and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte attend a news conference at the Government House in Bangkok, Thailand March 21, 2017. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

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BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand’s junta leader and Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte agreed on Tuesday to strengthen military ties and cooperate against cross-border criminality, including illegal drugs.

Duterte has faced criticism over the bloody nature of his campaign against drugs while Thailand’s junta is under pressure from the West to restore democracy nearly three years after it took power in the name of ending instability.

"On the security matters, Thailand and the Philippines are willing to work together in tightening the military ties of both countries as we are concerned about the challenges in addressing terrorism and all forms of transnational crimes,” Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said after their meeting.

Duterte also referred specifically to the campaign against illegal drugs. More than 8,000 people have died since he took office last year and began his own crackdown.

As the Philippines chairs the regional meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations this year, Duterte emphasised the need for the bloc to complete the framework of a code of conduct to ensure all parties follow legal and diplomatic processes in settling territorial disputes in the South China Sea.

Although the Philippines has moved closer to an accommodation with China over the contested waterway under Duterte, friction remains.

The Philippines plans to file a strong protest against China after it announced preparatory work for an environmental monitoring station on a disputed shoal in the South China Sea, a cabinet minister said on Tuesday.

China has put missiles and radar on manmade islands in another part of the South China Sea, in which Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam all have claims.

Thailand has no territorial claim in the South China Sea, but as one of ASEAN’s bigger members it is influential within the bloc.

(Reporting by Juarawee Kittisilpa; Editing by Alison Williams)

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