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Australia to Upgrade Security Using Army Reservists - 2003-05-18

Australia has decided to create a new security force made up of military reservists to help police counter terrorist threats in major cities.

Government officials in Australia Sunday announced they will beef up security against terrorism by using the country's Army reservists to create new rapid reaction units. The plan will be fully implemented by late this year.

These part-time soldiers will be based in major cities and deployed to protect landmarks such as the Sydney Opera House and Harbor Bridge from terrorist attacks.

Like America's National Guard, the new reserve units can be called out on short notice to support the professional army, the police and emergency services.

Army reserves were used to provide extra security during the Sydney Olympics three years ago and were deployed as peacekeepers in East Timor and Papua New Guinea.

Opposition politicians claim the move is further proof that Australia's involvement in the war in Iraq has hurt Australia's security by making it more of a target of radical and terrorist groups.

"It's confirmation of what we've been saying for some time that Australia is at greater risk of terrorist threat and the prime minister should be honest about that," said Labor opposition leader Simon Crean.

The government rejects such assertions, saying Australia's participation in the Iraq campaign struck an important blow against international terrorism.

The government says the plan is part of an overall strategy to improve security and has been under consideration since 89 Australian tourists were killed in a terrorist bombing in Bali, Indonesia, last October.

Since the attack, Australia has been on an unprecedented state of alert.

The government in Canberra has again warned Australians not to travel to several countries in Southeast Asia, including Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines. The warning comes after U.S. intelligence services confirmed they had information of an impending attack against Westerners in the region.