Terror Takes Central Role For Summit

With the growing acknowledgment that regional security needs to be strengthened amid fears of possible attacks in Southeast Asia, senior officials said recently that terrorism has taken priority as an agenda item for the upcoming Asean Summit talks.

“Some Asean countries are confronted with terrorism—it is necessary to find measures against it,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong during an interview Monday night on TVK.

Making references to the recent bombing on the Indo­nesian tourist island of Bali, which killed nearly 200, Hor Namhong said on TVK that fighting terrorism will take a prominent place in the Asean summit discussions, which are scheduled to take place on Monday and Tuesday in Phnom Penh.

Heads of state from Japan, China, India and South Korea—as well as all the Asean countries—are expected to attend the historic summit.

Minister of Tourism Veng Sereyvuth confirmed on Tuesday that terrorism will be high on the list of topics to be discussed at the Asean summit, adding that “with terrorism, all other [Asean-related] issues are at stake.”

But he said terrorism discussions will not overshadow other issues such as regional trade, tourism and development.

“The issues are inter-related,” Veng Sereyvuth said. “When you talk about one, you must talk about the other—[terrorism] will not detract from other issues, it is just reinforcing other issues.”

One issue besides terrorism that is certain to be discussed is the Asean tourism agreement, which leaders are scheduled to sign during the summit, Veng Sereyvuth said.

The tourism pact, which was drafted during a meeting of tourism officials at an Asean tourist meeting in Vientiane in July, will aim to strengthen tourism ties among Asean countries, especially in marketing and bringing foreign visitors to all Asean countries.

One Asean diplomat, who declined to be identified, said on Monday that the pact will also focus on Asean as a single tourist destination. With many other countries outside the region already competing heavily for visitors, the Asean nations now need to create the demand to bring tourists to their own sites.

“We want Asean travelers to go to Angkor Wat, then to the Plain of Jars [in Laos], then to a tourist site in Thailand,” the diplomat said.

Even though many Asean countries have bilateral and trilateral tourism agreements with their Southeast Asian neighbors, the agreement to be signed in November will “complement” those pacts and would not superseded any pre-existing arrangements.

In 2001, approximately 40,868,484 international visitors arrived in Asean countries, up from 29,669,071 in 1995, according to statistics published in a report from the Asean tourism meeting in Laos.

In Cambodia, 39,672 people visited Cambodia in the first nine months of the year—an increase of 8,187 from the same time last year, according to figures from the Ministry of Tourism.

The tourism industry in Southeast Asia, however, is expected to take a hit in the wake of the bombings in Bali and other regional terrorist threats.

Although officials in Cambodia said recently that the country could benefit from the Bali attacks if tourists destined to Indonesia re-route their holidays to Cambodia or Thailand, industry insiders expect a significant drop in tourism within Asean.

It is because of these threats that combating terrorism is taking such a prominent role in the Asean summit, Veng Sereyvuth said Tuesday.

“What took place in Bali will affect all nations,” he said.

The Asean diplomat agreed with Veng Sereyvuth, saying that since the Bali bombings, Asean leaders have realized that “terrorism is not just a distant enemy.”

The diplomat also said, though, that “although the leaders are going to talk about terrorism, it doesn’t mean they can’t sign a tourism pact or discuss other agreements.”


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