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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 08:26 GMT
Asean stumbles over war on terror
Asean leaders
Terrorism was a sticking-point for Asean leaders
Jonathan Head

Leaders from the 10 members of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) have pledged to improve co-operation among their law enforcement agencies to try to combat terrorism in the region.

In a statement issued at a summit meeting in Brunei, their heads of government strongly condemned the September attack on the World Trade Center in New York but avoided any reference to the US operations in Afghanistan, which are opposed by Malaysia and Indonesia.

Asean members
Indonesia
Thailand
Philippines
Brunei
Cambodia
Laos
Malaysia
Burma
Singapore
Vietnam

It was not easy for the Asean leaders to come up with a statement they could all agree on, with terrorism a key sticking-point.

Malaysia and Indonesia want the US bombing of Afghanistan to stop now, while Singapore and the Philippines are more supportive of the US campaign and want to see stronger joint action by Asean members to deal with terrorism in their own region.

In the end, the leaders did commit themselves to greater co-operation but not to any specific measures which might have convinced sceptics that cross-border law enforcement here is about to improve.

Backyard troubles

Many South East Asian countries do have what they call terrorist problems but they can rarely agree on how to deal with them.

Anti-US demonstrators in Jakarta
Air strikes on Afghanistan are fiercely opposed by some Indonesian Muslims
Both Burma and Laos are unhappy about Thailand's reluctance to crack down on rebel movements operating along their common border.

The pro-independence insurgents in the Indonesian province of Aceh - often labelled terrorists by Jakarta - enjoy the sympathy of many people in neighbouring Malaysia.

On this issue, as on so many others, Asean is discovering that without any one member capable of dominating the association, it is simply too fragmented and indecisive to become a credible regional power.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Jonathan Head reports from Brunei
"The issue of terrorism is dividing Asean "
See also:

05 Nov 01 | Business
Asean leaders' trade hopes
29 Oct 01 | Business
Recession dominates Asia summit
17 Oct 01 | Business
Asia's economies face aftershocks
27 Jul 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Brunei
02 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Asean faces trade and terror challenge
26 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesian Islamists hold fire
01 Nov 01 | Asia-Pacific
Malaysian PM condemns bombing
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