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SE Asia still at 'risk of terrorism'

Detained in Indonesia, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir has denied he is a member of al Qaeda
Detained in Indonesia, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir has denied he is a member of al Qaeda  


SINGAPORE -- A top U.S. Navy commander says the war against terrorism in Southeast Asia is still far from over despite a recent crackdown.

Admiral Dennis Blair, commander-in-chief of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said on Tuesday a string of arrests in Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines had not eradicated the threat posed by terrorists and militant groups.

"It takes so little these days to conduct a powerful attack -- a few plane tickets, some local sympathizers, half a million dollars and some determined work from the outside," Blair told reporters in Singapore during a tour of the region.

"I don't think any of us wants to overplay the threat but we don't want to think that we are completely on top of it."

Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines have arrested or detained dozens of suspected militants they say have links to the al Qaeda terrorist network. Authorities say some have connections to Muslim groups in Indonesia.

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Blair said several Asian governments had adapted their security forces to deal with the terrorism risk and had started to gather and share intelligence with each other.

"The events of September 11 have given a positive jolt to our comparing of information and it is far more detailed and forthcoming on all sides," the admiral said.

"All of us recognize that none of us has a complete picture."

Indonesia ties

Indonesia moved against militant Muslim groups for the first time last week when police questioned a Muslim cleric who has been accused of being linked to terrorist networks and possibly al Qaeda.

The probe was particularly significant because Indonesian officials have repeatedly denied that terror network elements existed in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Blair said on Tuesday that better ties between Jakarta and Washington could boost Indonesia's anti-terror campaign, but first it needed to raise the standards within its military, which has a reputation for brutality.

"We have a relationship with Indonesia and are certainly looking for opportunities to take specific action with Indonesia on actions to combat terrorism which would involve taking down terrorist groups," Blair said.

"We could all be much more effective if we had a fuller relationship which we do hope would be available as the Indonesian armed forces make progress [with the reforms]."

The United States banned military assistance to Jakarta following the army-led violence in East Timor in the aftermath of the former Indonesian territory voting for independence in 1999.

Emphasis

The admiral was quoted by The Associated Press as saying that Indonesia was incapable of fighting sea pirates or illegal immigrants, let alone terrorists.

With the U.S. emphasis in its war against terrorism shifting from Afghanistan, there are clear signs Washington is focusing more of its efforts on Southeast Asia.

More than 100 U.S. troops have arrived in Zamboanga in the southern Philippines.

Another 500 personnel are due to arrive in the next few weeks to train Filipino soldiers and advise them in a joint exercise against the Abu Sayyaf Muslim separatist group.

The Abu Sayyaf is currently holding an American couple and a Philippine national hostage, seized in May last year.

From Singapore, Blair will travel to Malaysia's Sabah region, Vietnam, Japan and South Korea.



 
 
 
 


RELATED STORIES:
• Indonesia moves on Muslim militants
January 25, 2002
• SE Asia on terror alert
January 22, 2002
• Philippines arrests fifth terror suspect
January 21, 2002
• Tape shows Singapore attack plans
January 12, 2002

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