Officials Upset by Australian PM’s Comments

Cambodia’s top defense chiefs have joined other Southeast Asian leaders in sharing growing unease at Australian Prime Min­ister John Howard’s reported com­ments that he supports pre-emptive strikes against terrorists in Asia.

Angry rebukes from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand have followed Howard’s comments, which they say harbor “hegemonic” tendencies and un­dermine national sovereignty in the region.

Malaysian Prime Minister Ma­hathir Mohamad warned Tues­day that any action carried out by Australian forces in his country would be considered an act of war.

“[Australia] cannot do like that,” Cambodian co-Minister of De­fense Tea Banh said Tuesday.

“I do not support this because each country has the ability and right to crack down on terrorists by themselves,” Tea Banh said.

“We are happy to have alliance [with Australia] if needed. But if there are terrorists, we will attack them first. We can’t keep them and wait for other countries to at­tack them,” he said.

Defense co-Minister Prince Sisowath Sirirath said Wednes­day that Howard’s comments were more likely intended to boost his domestic political image after the Bali bombing that killed almost 200 people, most of them Australian holiday makers.

“Perhaps it’s a political move [concerned] with public opinion in Australia rather than foreign po­licy in Southeast Asia,” Prince Sirirath said.

“I think the prime minister is angry about the mass killing of Aus­tralians [in Bali],” he said.

An Australian Embassy spokes­­­person said Wednesday the prime minister’s remarks were taken out of context and Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has made several statements clarifying Aus­tralia’s position.

Downer said that Australia is committed to sharing intelligence and security co­operation with its neighbors to prevent the possibility of an attack on its citizens.

“[We] would do everything in our power to prevent an attack but within the framework of cooperation with our neighbors,” the spokesperson said.

 

 

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