Australian Defense Minister Robert Hill has called on countries in the Asia-Pacific region to do more to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction. Senator Hill's comments come at the opening of a meeting of the Proliferation Security Initiative in Sydney.

The Australian defense minister says the Asia-Pacific region, with some of the busiest sea and air routes in the world, must increase its efforts to stop the trade in weapons of mass destruction.

Senator Robert Hill made the comments as delegates from 19 countries gathered in Sydney to discuss the legal, logistical and intelligence issues that are associated with the Proliferation Security Initiative. The U.S. government set up the initiative last year to curb the trade in illicit weapons.

Senator Hill says there is much work to be done, as current non-proliferation structures are ill equipped to keep weapons of mass destruction, or WMD., out of the hands of terrorists.

The defense chief says the government in Canberra has warned Australian companies to be on guard about exporting technology that could be used to create such weapons.

"There have been suggestions that some may have been exported from Australia innocently that have been used within WMD," said Mr. Hill. "At least research programs, and that's something that we watch very carefully."

The Australian navy and customs service participated alongside the United States and France in an exercise held by Japan last month. Sailors and customs agents simulated pursuing, intercepting and searching vessels suspected of carrying nuclear, biological or chemical weapons - or materials used to make them.

Supporters of the Proliferation Security Initiative say the exercises are not meant to antagonize any particular country. However, that is clearly not the way North Korea has seen things. It calls the recent maneuvers off Japan provocative.

Australia has said Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions are the most serious security issue facing the Asia-Pacific region.

North Korea claims to be building a nuclear arsenal, in violation of its earlier pledges to remain nuclear free. The United States suspects it has at least two nuclear bombs.