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Southeast Asian Countries Join Efforts to Fight Terrorism - 2002-02-21


Southeast Asian foreign ministers say they have drafted an agreement for better cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

Foreign ministers from the 10 member Association of South East Asian Nations or ASEAN are hailing the draft agreement as a new era in cooperation.

At an annual retreat in Phuket, Thailand, the ministers agreed Thursday to step up regional cooperation in efforts to fight terrorist threats.

The Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia produced a draft agreement on exchanging information and intelligence as well as provisions to arrest suspects wanted in any of the three countries.

The foreign ministers say they hope to end a perception that the region has become a haven for terrorist cells.

In recent months, there have been scores of high-profile arrests in Singapore and Malaysia of suspected Islamic militants - some linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Al-Qaida is the main focus of the U.S.-led global war against terrorism, since the group has been blamed for the September attacks on New York and Washington. But behind the talk of unity there are also signs of division. In Jakarta Thursday, Indonesia summoned Singapore's envoy to clarify recent remarks by Senior Minister Lee Kwan Yew that terrorists were still at large within Indonesia.

Indonesia has faced criticism over several months as countries accused Jakarta of failing to do enough to counter Islamic militancy within the sprawling archipelago. Jakarta has repeatedly denied the claims.