ASEAN pledges joint action on terrorism

PHUKET (AFP): Southeast Asian ministers today pledged a “new era” of cooperation against the global terrorist threat, with plans to link efforts to combat militancy and promote the region as a safe place for tourists and investors. At an informal retreat at the Amanpuri resort, the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) foreign ministers moved to counter a growing impression that the region was a hotbed of terrorism. The discovery of alleged terrorist cells in Southeast Asia with ties to Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network is threatening to devastate the region’s tourism industry and deter much-needed foreign investment. “There is a lot of misunderstanding of ASEAN countries and what we have done. In fact, we have done a lot, but perhaps we have not done enough to show [the world] what we have done,” said Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai. “So we have to find a way to explain more, and we have to link the activities in each country to each other so that cooperation in this field will be strengthened. To me this is a new era of ASEAN foreign ministers’ cooperation.” The ministers lamented that while anti-terrorism campaigns in Europe had been applauded, in Asia they had served only to taint the region’s reputation. “In fact, when we arrest terrorists, that should be counted as credit, not as debit,” Surakiart said. In an unprecedented move, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia announced that they were drafting a trilateral agreement that will allow them to arrest suspected terrorists for crimes committed on each other’s territory. Surakiart said Thailand was also preparing to sign up to the agreement his week pending a final review of the draft. “We agreed to the principles from the very beginning,” he said.

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