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Sunday, 1 December, 2002, 13:49 GMT
Australia ready to strike abroad
Australian Prime Minister John Howard
John Howard wants the UN charter to be changed
Australia's prime minister has said he is ready to launch pre-emptive action against terrorists in neighbouring Asian countries.

John Howard's remarks caused outrage among governments in the region.

He told Australian television that international law was no longer adequate to confront the threats to national security.

International law has to catch up with the new reality

John Howard
Australia should now be allowed to strike first at terrorist targets, he said.

Mr Howard's comments come as Australia beefs up its security measures, following a terrorist attack in Bali in October which claimed up to 90 Australian lives.

Powerful military

Asked whether he would be prepared to act if he knew terrorists were planning to attack Australia, Mr Howard said: "Yes, I think any Australian prime minister would."

Refugees following Australian peacekeeping soldier
Australia used its military might in East Timor
Australia has one of the most powerful military machines in the Asia-Pacific region, including a modern air force and highly regarded special forces, says the BBC's Phil Mercer in Sydney.

Mr Howard said he would have no hesitation in using these resources in neighbouring countries to eliminate suspected terrorist targets.

The Australian leader also wants the United Nations charter to be amended to allow member countries to strike first if they believe an attack is imminent.

States cannot flout international law and norms willy-nilly

Marti Natalegawa, Indonesia spokesman
He said the existing document was drawn up when conflicts were defined in terms of one nation attacking another nation - and was now out-of-date.

"What you're getting is non-state terrorism which is just as devastating and potentially even more so."

Attack warnings

In the past few weeks, the Australian government has issued a number of warnings that an attack on Australian soil is likely in the coming months.

The country's sense of security was shattered on 12 October, when powerful bomb blasts blamed on suspected Islamic extremists tore through beach bars on Indonesia's resort island of Bali.

Tourists lay bouquets of flowers at the blast site in Bali
The Bali blast shattered Australia's notions of security
Up to 90 of the 185 people killed were Australian, and the attack has been dubbed Australia's September 11.

Since then the country has been on a high state of alert, boosting security overseas and warning of further attacks.

Last week Australia closed its mission in the Philippines, citing a specific and credible terror threat.

Asian anger

Mr Howard's comments have sparked outrage from governments across Asia.

Indonesian foreign ministry spokesman Marti Natalegawa said Australia did not have the right to launch military strikes in other countries. "States cannot flout international law and norms willy-nilly," he said.

Thai Government spokesman Ratthakit Manathat said: "Nobody does anything like this. Each country has its own sovereignty that must be protected."

And Philippine National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said Mr Howard's comments were "not wise", and did not "follow ... the doctrine of peacekeeping and sovereignty."

The BBC's Phil Mercer reports from Sydney
"The PM said international law could no longer cope with the threat from international terrorism"

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See also:

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