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Asian Nations Intensify Cooperation to Fight Trans-National Crimes - 2004-01-08

Asian nations are looking to step up cooperation in combating trans-national crime, ranging from people smuggling to terrorism. Analysts warn there is some way to go before strategies to fight cross-border crime are effective.

Ministers from the Association of South East Asian Nations, as well as from China, Korea, and Japan will try to coordinate their countries' laws to combat trans-national crime, including terrorism.

The ministers met Thursday in Bangkok to find ways to fight the drug trade, human trafficking, sea piracy, arms smuggling, money laundering, terrorism, and economic and cyber crimes. The problem is that many countries define offenses differently, and what is illegal in one jurisdiction may be legal just across the border in another country.

ASEAN Deputy Secretary-General Wilfrido V. Villacorta says trans-national crime has become an urgent issue for Southeast Asia, especially given recent warnings of possible terrorist attacks.

"It is an urgent matter that [and] it has been addressed by ASEAN for several years, but the feeling of urgency is even more now in light of what is happening," he said. "And it is not only the region of Southeast Asia, the whole world is faced with this problem."

Carl Thayer, an analyst on regional terrorism at the Australian Defense Academy, says the major issue between ASEAN and northern Asia is drug trafficking from Burma - also known as Myanmar - into China.

"The key issue is China's push with Myanmar and Laos and Vietnam to try and control the inflow of drugs," he said. "Efforts have been made, but no one wants to be seen siding up with China against Myanmar."

Burma is a major grower of opium for the world market and also produces hundreds of millions of methamphetamine pills for the regional market, especially Thailand.

Mr. Thayer says ASEAN may have created a general framework to deal with trans-national crime, but still faces problems implementing the new policy.

"It will take a long time and as long as there is corruption or a lack of political will, or a lack of cohesion within a country, the effectiveness of all these measures will be limited," he said.

Authorities say that unless laws are harmonized, criminals will be able to move around the region to escape prosecution.