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Southeast Asian Countries Reject Australian Call for Pre-Emptive Strikes - 2002-12-02

Southeast Asian governments reject the Australian prime minister's idea of unilateral pre-emptive strikes against foreign terrorists who may be preparing to attack Australia. Regional leaders say the idea breaches the United Nations charter.

Southeast Asian governments on Monday are taking a dim view of comments by Australian Prime Minister John Howard that Canberra may strike pre-emptively at suspected terror groups in the region.

Mr. Howard stood by his comments Monday, a day after saying he would be prepared to act if he knew there were terrorists in a neighboring country planning to attack Australia. "Nothing that I said yesterday was in any way directed against the countries of our region. It was not directed at the governments of the countries of our region," he said.

In Malaysia, Defense Minister Najib Razak warned the presence of foreign troops would complicate his government's efforts in the war on terrorism.

Malaysia has taken a tough stance on suspected terrorists, arresting more than 70 Islamic militants in the past year. Many of them are said to belong to the Jemaah Islamiyah group allegedly behind the October 12 bombing of a bar in Bali killed nearly 200 people, about half of them Australians.

The chairman of Malaysia's Democrat Action Party, Lim Kiat Sang, said Mr. Howard's plan would breach international law. "I think it's not been done in a manner in utter disregard of the work done in the last 50 years after the Second World War to create international peace and order through multilateral relationships," he said.

Mr. Lim said Australia should hold a dialogue with Southeast Asia countries and with the United Nations to deal with any terrorism threat.

Indonesian officials say they reject any unilateral moves. Foreign Ministry spokesman Marty Natalegwa said Mr. Howard's proposals would violate national sovereignty. "So we feel that this was not a helpful statement and we would rather that the statement had not been made."

Philippines Foreign Secretary Blas Ople ruled out letting Australia launch pre-emptive strikes against suspected terrorists in the region.

Mr. Howard's comments appear likely to hurt efforts to increase anti-terrorism cooperation between Australia and Southeast Asia. Australia has already reached anti-terrorism pacts with several countries, including Thailand and Singapore.

Philippine National Security Advisor Roilo Golez has recommended that Manila "go slow" on a similar deal with Australia, which would allow Australian troops to train in the Philippines.