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ASEAN Members Agree to Fight Terrorism - 2002-07-30

Leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations say they will sign an agreement to help the United States fight terrorism. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is expected to meet ASEAN leaders in Brunei to sign the accord on Wednesday.

ASEAN leaders have declared in an official statement they recognize terrorism as a global threat that must be confronted by the international community. That is why they pledged to sign an anti-terrorism accord with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. The accord calls for the sharing of information to block the transfer of money used by terror groups, and new measures to tighten borders and make it harder for criminals to get forged passports and identity papers.

Terrorism was high on the agenda at the ASEAN summit, held over the past two days in Brunei. Some analysts say it is about time. Despite small insurgencies in several Southeast Asian nations, the analysts say some leaders continued to believe the region was safe from terrorism even after the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. Panithan Wattanyagorn is a professor of International relations at Chulalongkorn University in the Thai capital, Bangkok. He says it was not until authorities in Singapore and Malaysia uncovered a plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Singapore last December that many Asian leaders became concerned.

"They were caught by surprise by the incident uncovered in Singapore in December and now they do realize much more that these terrorist networks are very well entrenched in these countries," said Prof. Wattanyagorn. "They move funds quite easily from outside into Southeast Asia. They move weapons and people. They exchange information regularly. They even discover that some of the terrorists that attacked the U.S. are passing through their countries quite often."

ASEAN leaders will remain in Brunei for meetings of the ASEAN Regional Forum, to be attended by the foreign ministers of 21 other nations, including the United States and the European Union. Senior ASEAN leaders meet annually to discuss issues related to the Southeast Asian region. The tone of this year's gathering was set by Brunei's leader and the conference host, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, who said terrorism was a deadly threat to the region and its people.

"That is the way I see terrorism's greatest threat," he said. "It lies not just in the horrifying menace it poses to ordinary, innocent peoples' lives. At its deepest level, it directly threatens all international order. It is therefore an attack on the very structure of our association. That is why we are fully committed to removing its sponsors, its criminal perpetrators in every aspect of its influence from our region."

On hand at this year's ASEAN meeting was the foreign minister of East Timor, the region's newest nation. East Timor will now be invited to attend ministerial level meetings of ASEAN, before it becomes an observer nation.