Tue, Jun 29, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Sealane talks dominate ASEAN meet

SECURITY CONCERNS The group opened a meeting on security with discussions about protecting shipping from terrorists and other threats


Southeast Asian countries yesterday discussed possible cooperation to boost security in the region's waterways, which form a crucial link in global trade and are potential terrorist targets.

The fight against terrorism in Southeast Asia and North Korea's nuclear ambitions top the agenda for international security talks this week in the Indonesian capital.

Armed soldiers patrolled the venue ahead of a meeting tomorrow of foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations. The meeting coincides with the final days of campaigning for Indonesian presidential elections next week, and police have warned that militants may be planning attacks to disrupt the polls.

The talks will be followed on Thursday and Friday by a wider meeting of the region's main security body -- the ASEAN Regional Forum -- which includes 13 other members, including the United States, China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia, and the European Union.

A draft ASEAN document circulating Monday says its members have made good progress against terrorism but urges "greater concerted efforts and concrete initiatives at all levels in combating terrorism."

The document, a copy of which was seen by The Associated Press, calls for a maritime forum to be established "at an early date" to help make the region's waterways safer.

It gives no details, but the plan follows recent concerns raised by the US that terrorists could use ships as weapons in the Malacca Straits, the narrow waterway between Indonesia and Malaysia which carries one third of the world's trade.

The statement was being finalized tomorrow to hand to ASEAN foreign ministers on Wednesday.

Southeast Asia has seen a string of terror attacks in recent years, including the 2002 Bali bombings blamed on the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah group.

The ministers will also consider progress being made on an agreement reached last year for ASEAN to establish a European-style economic community, and will consider plans for a regional commission to investigate human rights abuses.

The commission would make recommendations on alleged abuses, but would not have enforcement powers.

ASEAN countries are traditionally unwilling to interfere in each other's affairs. An earlier Indonesian proposal calling for a regional peacekeeping force was dropped after complaints from some members.

The ASEAN Regional Forum will likely be dominated by talks on the Korean Peninsula.

According to a draft of a statement to be released at the end of the forum, Asia-Pacific nations called for a peaceful resolution of the dispute over North Korea's nuclear development, and praised China for its role as host of six-nation talks on the standoff.

"Participants called for a nuclear-weapon-free Korean Peninsula and the efforts to address all the concerns of the parties," said the draft, obtained yesterday.

"They agreed that the nuclear issue should be resolved peacefully through dialogue," it said.

Six-nation talks on North Korea's nuclear program ended in Beijing Saturday with a promise to discuss steps toward dismantling it and to meet again by September, but envoys cautioned that the US and North Korean positions remained far apart.

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