Southeast Asian foreign ministers have taken a step forward in the war on terrorism, preparing a draft convention that allows security agencies to cooperate more on tracking, finding and prosecuting terrorists. The draft was approved Friday, and leaders of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations are expected to give their final approval Saturday. Douglas Bakshian reports from the ASEAN summit in the Philippine city of Cebu.
The convention is designed to clamp down on the unregulated movement of arms and militants in the region. The draft says ASEAN's individual national security agencies would have to coordinate their efforts to track, arrest, detain and rehabilitate suspected militants. They would also be required to beef up border controls and suppress terrorist financing.
The convention would make it a legal obligation for the 10 ASEAN countries to work together in these areas.
Rohan Gunaratna, a terrorism specialist at the Singapore Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, says this is a step in the right direction in the war on terror.
"It will have a significant impact because today the specialist counter-terrorism capabilities of individual governments are quite good, but there is limited cooperation, coordination and collaboration between the governments," he said. "If there is greater understanding and agreement … then certainly the national security agencies … will cooperate much better to fight terrorism and extremism more effectively."
Gunaratna says terrorist and extremist groups in the region are cooperating and collaborating with each other, so the authorities must work together in a similar manner to counter the threat. He says terrorists are constantly moving among the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, nations with many large and small islands that make the borders difficult to police.
Summit spokesman Victoriano says the convention would bring ASEAN into line with internationally accepted definitions of terrorism.
"The ASEAN countries will adopt the definitions of what constitute terror-related crimes spelled out in various U.N. conventions, which could be against aircraft, airports, seacraft, maritime structures and the like," he said.
Terrorism is a persistent problem in the region. Just days ago, the southern Philippines was rocked by several bombings that killed at least six people and wounded dozens. Authorities suspect the bombings were the work of a local militant who is working with the regional Islamic terrorist group, Jemaah Islamiyah.
Jemaah Islamiyah is accused of being behind bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002 and 2005 that together killed 225 people. The group is also accused of several other fatal bombings over the past several years in Jakarta, and in the Philippines.
There has also been terrorist activity in recent years in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.