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EU Anti-Terror Head Urges Vigilance in Malacca Strait


The EU counter-terrorism chief is warning that Southeast Asian countries must increase their vigilance in the Malacca Strait to keep the strategic waterway safe from terrorist attacks. The European official has been meeting with government officials in Jakarta.

EU anti-terrorism coordinator Gijs de Vries says the Malacca Strait, the world's busiest shipping lane, is still vulnerable to terrorist attacks.

De Vries noted that the number of pirate attacks has declined in the strategic waterway, where more than half the world's oil and a third of its commerce passes annually. But he said the shipping lane is still a potential target for terrorists.

"The number of acts of piracy in the Straits has gone down significantly, which is testimony to the improvement in regional cooperation in that part of the world," he said. "But I think no one is under any illusion: the Straits are a potential target. And it is important therefore for regional cooperation to continue to be strengthened further."

Governments around the world have long feared an attack in the Malacca Strait, which passes between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore.

The United States and other countries have offered to help with security in the busy waterway, and Singapore has expressed some willingness to allow foreign troops into the area.

But Indonesia and Malaysia have said they do not want foreign assistance. The two countries recently began joint patrols of the Strait.

De Vries, who is in Jakarta for talks with the Indonesian government about closer cooperation with the European Union, says the threat of terrorism affects the entire world.

"We face a global problem that hits all nations regardless of political system and regardless of the religion of the people living there," he said. "It's essential that we combine our forces to combat this threat. Terrorism is a threat to human lives. It is also a threat to economic development."

Both Indonesia and Europe have suffered terrorist attacks in recent years, which have not only claimed lives but damaged economies.

De Vries says "a few" Europeans may be among militants from many countries who are going to Iraq join the insurgency there. He said the European Union is worried that some of these people might later use their training in Iraq to carry out terrorist attacks back home in Europe.

"This is clearly of concern to Europe's security services that are watching very carefully these trends," he said. "We do not know how many of these people will survive, we do not know how many of them will return. But some of them may return with skills that could prove extremely dangerous to the European people."

De Vries said discussions are underway regarding partnership and cooperation between the European Union and Indonesia - home to the world's largest Muslim population.