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ASEAN Meeting to Discuss Terrorism, North Korea, Burma

Cambodia's prime minister has called on Southeast Asian foreign ministers to cooperate in fighting the rising threat of terrorism. The detention of Burma's pro-democracy leader and North Korea's nuclear program are also under discussion in Phnom Penh.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen told the forum of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that the group must respond intensely to terrorist threats in the region. He said ASEAN members must take firm and coordinated measures to maintain public security, which he linked to political and economic stability.

There are signs that the terrorist threat in the region is growing broader. Only days earlier, security forces said they uncovered terrorist plots in Cambodia and Thailand for the first time. And for the first time, detained Thai and Cambodian nationals as terrorist suspects.

ASEAN spokesman M.C. Abad said the arrests show that progress is being made. "The secretary in his report declared that ASEAN, as a result of recent arrests of suspected terrorists, is no longer an easy theater for operations by international terrorists," he said.

The spokesman said the ministers are looking in particular at strengthening intelligence-sharing and tightening controls along their borders.

ASEAN is expected to break with tradition this week, and comment openly on the internal politics of a member state, Burma. The Burmese government detained pro-Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and dozens of her party leaders two weeks ago following a clash with government supporters.

Burma is allowing discussion of the issue, but Foreign Minister Win Aung said the reason for the detention was to protect Aung San Suu Kyi from would-be assassins. "What [will] happen to her will be blamed on us, so that is why we are protecting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, for the time being. When the time ... if the situation become clearer later, you know, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will be free again of course," he said.

ASEAN Secretary-General Ong Keng Yung said all its members want to see the Nobel Peace Prize winner freed, but do not want to raise the matter in a confrontational or unpleasant manner.

But conference sources say some members are seeking stronger disapproval of Burma's actions than is contained in an early draft of the meeting's final resolution.

The Forum is also expected to discuss tensions on the Korean Peninsula and North Korea's controversial nuclear weapons program. North Korea's foreign minister was due to attend the conference, but withdrew at the last minute.