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Asian Leaders Call For United Front to Battle Terrorism - 2004-07-31

Leaders of South and Southeast Asian nations are meeting in Bangkok to address issues ranging from globalization to terrorism. The summit heard the first overseas speech by India's new prime minister and a rare public address by the leader of Burma's military government who ignored the issue of democracy in the country. In his first overseas speech since taking office in May, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called for a united front against major crime and terrorism in the region.

"Our mutual confidence will be greatly enhanced if we were able to forge a common front against terrorism, gunrunning [and] narcotics trafficking, which in varying degrees affects us all," he said.

Mr. Singh was addressing fellow leaders from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand and Burma. The seven presidents and prime ministers have gathered for a summit of the regional economic and trade forum known as BIMSTEC.

Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said the countries in the region needed to build their economies or be left behind by globalization, while Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga said the benefits of globalization had to be made available to all citizens in the region.

"We must ensure that the fruits of globalization and regional economic cooperation reach the village and every nook and corner of our countries," she said. "Growth without equity where its benefits do not reach the periphery will neither be meaningful nor sustainable."

Burmese Prime Minister Khin Nyunt, in a rare public address, spoke highly of the forum's potential for fostering regional cooperation and understanding.

"We are of the view that the membership of the organization will not only promote greater economic cooperation among BIMSTEC member states, but also enhance greater contacts and better understanding among the people of this region," he said.

The Burmese leader also addressed promoting tourism in his country, which has largely been shunned because of the military government's suppression of democracy.

But he said nothing about Burmese issues that have most occupied the outside world: political reform, national reconciliation, and the continued detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

In talks with Prime Minister Thaksin on Friday, Khin Nyunt reportedly said Burma needed "more time" on those issues.