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9 Indian Ocean Nations Partner in Security Cooperative

A new organization dedicated to Indian Ocean regional port and maritime security has been launched. The South Asia Regional Port Security Cooperative, composed of nine nations, sees such traditional rivals as India and Pakistan making a rare attempt to work together on such issues of mutual concern. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Nalaguraidhoo in the Maldives.

The South Asia Regional Port Security Cooperative, known as SARPSCO, brings together many of the countries sharing the waters of the Indian Ocean: Bangladesh, Comoros, India, Madagascar, the Maldives, Mauritius, Oman, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

On hand for the group's unveiling Monday on a remote and pristine atoll in the Maldives was the country's president, Maumoon Abdul Gayoom. In a speech broadcast to the nation's 200 inhabited islands, Mr. Gayoom said the nine countries' vigilance is crucial to combat the maritime threats they jointly face.

"This conference, with its broad representation, is an excellent opportunity to chart a new framework for regional cooperation in this vital area," he said.

Half of the world's international maritime traffic is in the Indian Ocean region. Of special concern to the group is the potential disruption to oil shipments, which would have disastrous economic consequences for the region.

The United States is pledging to support the new multination initiative, although it will not be a member.

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Craig E. Bone said it is necessary to work together on port and maritime security to save lives and prevent economic damage by thwarting criminal and terrorist acts before they can be carried out.

"If crimes such as illegal fishing, human smuggling and the transportation of illegal cargoes and drugs can not be collectively combated, then neither can terrorism and piracy," he said.

The admiral said the formation of SARPSCO sends a clear message and a warning to terrorists and criminals in the South Asia and Indian Ocean region that they will be detected, they will be interdicted and their activities will not be tolerated.

U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Robert Blake, Jr., also spoke at the cooperative's inaugural session, saying the group could do a lot to thwart those thinking of attacking ports in the Indian Ocean region.

"Cargo containers and international seaports pose potentially attractive targets for terrorists," he said. "A successful attack against a port could cripple a nation's economy and disrupt international shipping worldwide."

SARPSCO is the latest in a series of such economic and security cooperative initiatives in the region. India organized an Indian Ocean naval symposium in February.

The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation was launched in 1985. But critics say too often these organizations do not implement resolutions, achieve little, are underfunded, and any progress is hampered by traditional regional rivalries, especially between India and Pakistan.