The U.S. military commander for Asia is visiting Southeast Asia to build more regional support for the fight against terrorism. Admiral Thomas Fargo toured the Malaysian state of Sabah, on the island of Borneo, to view Kuala Lumpur's efforts to keep out regional extremists.
Malaysian military chief General Zahidi Zainuddin and Admiral Fargo spent the day consulting on U.S.-Malaysian cooperation in the battle against terrorism. The admiral, who is based in Hawaii, commands the U.S. forces in the Pacific.
Sabah is of particular concern for Malaysia and Washington because it lies near the southern Philippines where the Abu Sayyaf group operates. The Islamic militant group has kidnapped dozens of people in the past few years, including tourists at a Malaysian resort three years ago.
Last month, the U.S. State Department urged Americans to avoid traveling to the Malaysia, particularly Sabah. The warning said terrorist attacks were possible in the region similar to the bombing in Bali last year that killed 202 people.
That attack has been blamed on members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant group that says it wants to create an Islamic state across Southeast Asia.
Although Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad insists Sabah is safe for tourism and has lashed out at the U.S. warning, Malaysia and neighboring Singapore are cooperating closely with Washington in the effort to defeat terrorists.
Panitan Wattanyagorn, a political analyst from Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, says security cooperation between Southeast Asian nations and the United States has grown, particularly since the September 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
"The cooperation between these countries, therefore with the United States and with neighboring countries has been on the increase," he said. "Malaysia is cooperating with the United States in terms of trying to initiate several kinds of counter-terrorist activities."
Malaysia will open a counter-terrorist center in partnership with the United States at the end of the year.
Mr. Panitan says counter-terrorism efforts in the region have been stepped up, including efforts to stop the flow of funds to terrorist groups.
"After September 11, and certainly after the Bali bombing, the cause of concern is the networking, the immigration issues, and perhaps the financial support that is going across the borders," he explained.
On Wednesday, Admiral Fargo visits the southern Philippines, where U.S. forces and Philippine troops are holding counter-terrorism exercises. In addition to hunting the Abu Sayyaf, the Philippines is battling a Muslim separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, which Manila accuses of terrorist activities.