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US, Southeast Asian Pact Strengthens US Ties with Region, say Analysts - 2002-08-09

A new pact between the United States and Southeast Asian nations marks a crucial step in boosting regional security. Analysts say the agreement also strengthens United States ties with the region. Analysts say the accord increases cooperation on security issues between the United States and the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations, ASEAN. The region has become a new front in the war against international terrorism, including groups with links to the al-Qaida network. ASEAN leaders and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell signed the deal late last month, at a regional security forum in Brunei.

Panitan Wattanayagorn is from the Institute of Security and International Studies in Thailand. He said the United States has committed to providing guidance to Southeast Asian nations on tackling terrorist threats. "I think the effort of the U.S. is strengthening, unifying, and perhaps lending support to those countries and perhaps increase their intelligence sharing and perhaps some of the training," he said. "In general, I think it a positive move for the region." Since last September's terrorist attacks on the United States, concern has grown that Southeast Asia has been infiltrated by al-Qaida-linked terrorists. Mr. Panitan said the region got a wake up call when Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines arrested suspected Islamic militants with plans to bomb U.S. interests. He said many Asian governments now are implementing anti-terror strategies. Richard Baker, senior fellow with the East-West Center, a regional think-tank in Hawaii, said such efforts benefit the United States, as well as Asian nations. "Well, I think for the U.S., clearly cooperation on the part of the major South East Asian countries is absolutely essential in pursuing any of the next stages of the war on terrorism," he said. But he added governments must take care to ensure anti-terrorism efforts are not interpreted as an anti-Islamic campaign. That could risk a backlash in the region's Muslim communities. "That's why for the U.S. in particular, as we look to enlist the assistance of the governments of this region in our broad international effort to counteract terrorism," he said, "we need to make absolutely certain our efforts are understood and the collaboration that we develop is within a context that is tolerable and that makes sense in local terms." Secretary of State Powell, during his trip to Asia, repeated earlier assurances that the accord aims to build what he calls a more intimate relationship with Southeast Asia. While some analysts raised fears the campaign against terrorism may be used to suppress legitimate dissent, Mr. Powell called on governments to protect human rights. He said the defeat of terrorism should be done from the highest moral ground.