Saturday, July 16, 2005

3 nations and Asean sign terror pact

BANGKOK, Thailand: New Zealand, South Korea and Pakistan will sign agreements this month with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on cooperating against terrorism, a Thai Foreign Ministry official said Thursday.

The signing will take place during a series of high-level Asean meetings in the Lao capital, Vientiane, on July 24 to 29, said Kitti Wasinond, the head of the ministry’s Asia Division.

Laos, Asean’s current chairman, will host an annual meeting of Asean foreign ministers, followed by talks with the group’s major diplomatic partners and a meeting of the Asean Regional Forum, the region’s main security forum.

Asean consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Fourteen other partners participate in ARF, including the United States, China, Japan, North and South Korea, Russia, the European Union, Australia, India, Canada and Pakistan. East Timor will attend for the first time this year, Kitti said.

Underlining regional concern about terrorism, the ARF meeting is expected to issue a statement on increased information and intelligence sharing to combat terrorism and other transnational crimes, Kitti said.

Terrorism became a major issue for Southeast Asia in October 2002, when bombings of nightclubs on the Indonesian island of Bali killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists.

That attack, and a bombing of a J.W. Marriott Hotel in Indonesia’s capital in 2003, were blamed by authorities on Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian terror group linked to al-Qaeda which has been accused of planning other attacks throughout the region.

An unusual aspect of this year’s ARF meeting will be the absence of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who said during a visit to Thailand on Monday that she had “other essential travel in roughly the same timeframe.”

Rice will be the first US secretary of state to miss the annual security meeting since Alexander Haig skipped it in 1982. Rice’s top deputy, Robert Zoellick, is to fill in for her.

The Russian news agency Itar-Tass reported from Moscow on Thursday that the first Russia-Asean summit will be the main topic at a ministerial meeting between Russia and Asean to be held in Vientiane on July 25, according to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Alekseyev.

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