Mon, Jun 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Malaysia rejects use of foreign troops in region

REUTERS , SINGAPORE

Malaysia rejected the use of foreign forces in fighting terror threats in Southeast Asia yesterday, saying their presence could trigger a radical backlash among the region's mostly moderate Muslim community.

But Malaysian Defense Minister Najib Razak told a security forum in Singapore that his country was open to discussions with the US and other nations on expanding cooperation in intelligence sharing and surveillance.

"What we should avoid is the presence of foreign forces in Southeast Asia, not because we distrust those from outside the region, but because a foreign military presence will set us back in our ideological battle against extremism and militancy," Najib said.

"The lessons of Iraq should be clear to us: ill-prepared liberators do make mistakes and the failure of good intentions can cause great damage to social and political stability."

Washington is expected to begin negotiations this month with Asian nations on a formal plan to enhance security efforts in the region, dubbed the Regional Maritime Security Initiative.

Najib said he would be holding talks with Admiral Thomas Fargo, the head of the US Pacific Command, on the proposal in Malaysia before the end of the month.

Widely reported comments in March that US special forces or the Marines could be used a part of efforts to enhance security in the busy Malacca Strait had provoked open opposition from both Malaysia and Indonesia, which straddle the key waterway.

More than 50,000 commercial vessels travel the 805km channel each year, carrying about a third of the world's trade and 80 percent of Japan's oil needs.

The wealthy city state of Singapore, home to one of the world's busiest ports, has long urged nations that benefit from the trade in the Strait to play a greater role in improving security.

"No country can defeat terrorism by itself," Singapore's coordinating minister for security and defense, Tony Tan, told the forum, which is organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, based in London.

In a bid to smooth ruffled diplomatic feathers in the wake of the strong reaction to early reports of the plan, US officials used this weekend's forum to play down any military involvement and make clear it would only be at the request of the countries concerned.

Admiral Walter Doran, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, said on the sidelines of the forum the American plan does not involve the presence of additional outside troops such as US elite forces, nor the setting up of any bases.

A summary of a closed-door dialogue yesterday attended by representatives of about 20 countries, including the US, said there was agreement on the need to strengthen and improve security in the Strait of Malacca.

"Indonesia recognized the legitimate interests of other countries in the safety and security of the Straits and was willing to accommodate and engage them," the summary said.

Two suggestions were floated to improve regional cooperation. One called for the enlargement of an existing forum called the Malacca Straits Security Board. A second idea proposed by Indonesia is for an ASEAN Maritime Security Cooperation forum.

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