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Indonesia, Malaysia Give Cool Response to Suggestion of  US Troops in Malacca Strait - 2004-04-07

Terrorism experts have long feared for the safety of shipping traveling the Malacca Strait between Indonesia and Malaysia. However, neither the Indonesians nor the Malaysians are welcoming a U.S. suggestion that American troops be used in the area to deter attacks.

A suggestion by the top U.S. military officer in the Asia Pacific region that American counterterrorism forces might be deployed in the Malacca Strait has met a chilly response from the countries along the vital shipping corridor.

Admiral Thomas Fargo's recent suggestion was a response to fears that terrorists might target shipping, either to use the ships as weapons or to disrupt international trade.

A spokesman for Indonesia's foreign ministry, Marty Natalegawa, says that under international treaty, security in the strait is the responsibility of Indonesia and Malaysia. He says his government has not been consulted about the plan.

"It's a bit odd that such a major policy announcement or policy initiative should have been made without proper consultations with the two countries of foremost interest, namely Malaysia and Indonesia, and naturally having heard it second hand from the media, our initial response would have been 'no thanks,'" he said.

More than a quarter of the world's shipping passes through the Malacca Strait. Tankers carrying oil from the Gulf to the energy hungry people in Asia, freighters laden with Japanese nuclear waste en route to Europe for reprocessing, and the products of China's booming economy all run between Indonesia and Malaysia.

Pirates have been active in the strait for years, but the problem has increased recently. In its latest report, The International Maritime Bureau, a piracy watchdog, says the strait is the most dangerous part of the world for attacks. While all the attacks so far are believed to have been simply the work of criminals, the bureau has warned that terrorists could also attack slow-moving ships.

Al-Qaida-linked groups have already proved that they see ships as potential targets. The Cole, a U.S. navy ship, was attacked in 2000 by and an explosive-laden boat hit a tanker off the coast of Yemen in 2002.