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Malaysia to Open Regional Anti-Terrorism Center - 2003-05-30

Malaysia has announced plans this week to open a regional anti-terrorism center by the end of the year in partnership with the United States.

Malaysia Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar says the planned Southeast Asian Center for Counter-Terrorism will focus on developing cooperation and resources to track terror cells and prevent attacks.

Zainal Abidin Zain, the Foreign Ministry undersecretary for Southeast Asia and Pacific, has been appointed director-general of the center.

Experts from around the world will conduct workshops and seminars at the center, which will be open to all 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, as well as other countries.

Political analyst Lee Poh Ping, from the National University of Malaysia, says the center's success depends on what approaches it uses to handle the problem of terrorism in Southeast Asia. "If it takes a purely military approach, say only interested in detaining and putting out suspected militants, then I don't think it will be successful. But if it goes beyond that and tries to look at the so-called root causes that bring about terrorism, then I think it will go quite a long way in combating terrorism," he says.

Malaysia first announced it might host the center after discussions with President Bush at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Mexico last October.

Malaysia and the United States are uneasy partners in the war against terrorism, with Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad frequently criticizing U-S policies in Iraq and the Middle East. Mr. Mahathir has accused Washington of an anti-Muslim bias - which he has argued with only encourage more terrorist acts from certain quarters of the Islamic community.

Mr. Lee says because of the perception, Malaysians will want the center distanced from the United States. "It should not be seen as a primary American effort, or an American inspired effort. Much of the, let's say, combating of terrorism should be left to the Malaysians or to the other non-American Southeast Asia members who might participate in the center," he says.

The United States has also angered Malaysia by issuing new travel warnings to the country.

Malaysia, and neighbor Singapore, have been proactive in arresting scores of suspected terrorists from the militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). JI aims to cause instability to create a pan-Islamic state encompassing Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and parts of the southern Philippines.