Asean countries made further progress on coordinating their own war on terror, expanding an anti-terrorism coalition of countries, signing a pact with China to strengthen regional security and vowing not to be cowed by attacks on innocent civilians.
Terrorism has played a major part of a series of summits that opened Sunday and end today.
Speaking as chair of this year’s Asean Summit, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen said after the meetings on Monday that the political will exists within Asean to “combat terrorism in all forms.”
But he joined other Asean leaders and cautioned other countries not to unnecessarily warn their citizens away from Asean, and said that all countries should be careful not to intimidate their own citizens.
“The tiger is in the forest,” Hun Sen said of terrorism, using a trademark metaphor. “And we are in the cities and threatened by the tiger.”
Hun Sen also said Monday night that Asean had forged an agreement with China to fight terrorism in Asia.
“Leaders adopted a joint declaration on cooperation on nontraditional security issues,” Hun Sen said.
The agreement is “aimed at promoting the collaboration of efforts to safeguard the region against terrorism,” according to an Asean statement.
In its own statement issued Sunday, Asean warned other countries not to help a terrorist agenda by keeping potential regional visitors afraid through unnecessary warnings.
Asean called upon other countries to avoid “indiscriminately” warning people away from the region.
The embassies of several Western countries have recently upgraded warnings to citizens traveling abroad, moves that have threatened to dampen the bread-and-butter tourism revenue earned by many Southeast Asian nations, including Cambodia.
Warnings should be avoided “in the absence of established evidence to substantiate rumors of possible terrorist attacks, as such measures could only help achieve the objectives of the terrorists,” Asean said in a declaration announced at Monday’s summit meetings.
Terrorism has become the central focus of three days of meetings held by Asean, China, Japan, South Korea and India, overshadowing regional efforts to step up cooperation on economics, agriculture and tourism.
Earlier Monday, Hun Sen said that economic problems, the recent terror attacks in Indonesia and the Philippines, “and the serious concern over international security requires us to strengthen our solidarity.”
The premier cited a “special focus on the fight against terrorism” as one of the key points in Cambodia’s agenda.
“Prosperity for all cannot be attained in the absence of security and peace,” Hun Sen said. “This we know from painful, recent experience. We should take more concerted actions to combat terrorism. We cannot allow the terrorist scourge to worsen.”
Leaders of Asean and China signed an agreement that would strengthen cooperation in fights against terrorism, drug smuggling, and human trafficking and other regional threats.
Meanwhile, Thailand is expected today to join Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to form a narrow anti-terrorism partnership that promises increased information sharing, communication and combined anti-terrorism exercises, Indonesian Foreign Minister Hasan Wirayuda said Monday.
“We strongly support the Thai initiative,” Hun Sen said. Cambodia signed the agreement earlier this year. Other Asean countries are expected to join the group eventually, but no other agreements are needed for them to do so, he said.
“We don’t need any more words, because the agreements are already there,” Wirayuda said. “It’s there.”
The agreement establishes guidelines for search-and-rescue operations, hotlines, the sharing of airline passenger lists and stronger border controls, The Associated Press reported.
“The frameworks are there,” Wirayuda said. “What we need is to give more political weight to the process.”
Indonesia’s secretary for military affairs, Major General Tubagus Hasanuddin, said that in a country like Indonesia, with long, porous borders, information is critical. He said that not only regional agencies, but those in the US as well, needed to improve their information sharing.
The agreement binds countries that are most exposed to terrorism: Indonesia, which struggles with separatist violence and now the Bali blasts; the Philippines, with Muslim extremists in the south and communists in the north; Thailand, which is fighting extremists in the South; and Malaysia, where officials have found elements linked with al-Qaida.
Hasanuddin said attacks on innocents can happen anywhere.
“Terrorism is terrorism,” he said, “without relation to country, without relation to religion.”