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Southeast Asian Leaders Agree to Strengthen Anti-Terrorism Fight - 2002-11-04

Southeast Asian leaders meeting in Cambodia have agreed to strengthen the fight against terrorism, but they urge other governments to avoid issuing travel warnings that alarm tourists and foreign investors. The leaders issued the declaration at the opening of the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN.

Leaders of the 10 ASEAN governments promise more cooperation against global terrorism, which threatens tourism and foreign investment in the region.

The ASEAN leaders condemned the recent attacks in Bali, Indonesia, and the Philippines. They commended Jakarta and Manila for moving quickly to bring those responsible to justice. The statement comes three weeks after bomb attacks in the two countries killed nearly 200 people.

At the same time, the leaders called on other governments to refrain from advising their citizens against traveling to the region without firm evidence of possible terrorist attacks. Several Southeast Asian nations that have not been hit by terrorists are protesting region-wide travel warnings issued by Western governments in recent weeks.

The ASEAN leaders denounced the use of terrorism for any cause. But they also deplored what they called the tendency in some quarters to identify terrorism with particular religions or ethnic groups.

Many of the recent terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia have been blamed on Islamic militant groups.

The Secretary-General of ASEAN, Rodolfo Severino, said ASEAN leaders are showing their resolve. "They (the leaders) intend to step up their cooperation and what their attitude is toward terrorism," he said.

Southeast Asian civic groups also gathered in Phnom Penh in what was called an alternative ASEAN People's Forum.

Organizer Toni Kasim said the groups are appalled by the loss of innocent lives in the bombings. But she said they worry that governments in the region are using the war on terrorism to crack down on political dissidents and human rights critics. We are also disturbed by the lack of concern with human security, that is freedom from persecution by the state and others, and secure access to adequate food, jobs, land and livelihood," she said.

The group tried to present a letter to the ASEAN summit Monday but security officials prevented them from doing so.

ASEAN leaders also signed an agreement Monday to bolster cooperation in building the tourism industry. And they met with leaders of China, Japan and South Korea to discuss reducing trade barriers across East Asia.