November 22, 2002

Powell: Southeast Asia is 'second front'

With the focus on combating terrorism, US Secretary of State Colin Powell is opening a swing through six countries of Southeast Asia, an area often called the "second front" after Afghanistan in the US war on terror.

Powell arrived in Bangkok shortly after midnight Monday after weekend visits to India and Pakistan.

During an 18-hour stay, Powell will confer with senior government officials and pay a Royal Palace visit on King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Thailand is a longtime defense ally of the United States. A senior U.S. official accompanying Powell noted the country has a strong record of ratifying U.N. counterterror treaties.

Powell also plans visits to Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia and the Philippines.

A highlight of Powell's trip will be his visit to Brunei, the independent oil sultanate on Malaysia's coast, where he will be joined by more than a dozen foreign ministers from Pacific Rim countries.

U.S. diplomats have worked with colleagues from Southeast Asian countries in Brunei on a proposed anti-terrorism treaty, but no final agreement had been reached by Sunday.

A senior Asian diplomat in Brunei said the United States opposed any treaty that could impede its freedom to go after terrorists.

Three of the six countries on Powell's itinerary - Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei - have Muslim majorities. Singapore, the Philippines and Thailand all have significant Muslim minorities.

The United States began paying far closer attention to Southeast Asia as a terrorist hotspot not long after it began its military campaign last October against the Taliban militia and their al-Qaeda allies in Afghanistan.

People suspected of links with al-Qaeda were rounded up in Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. The United States also dispatched more than 600 U.S. troops to the Philippines in early January, marking the first significant U.S. deployment there since the Philippine Congress expelled U.S. forces a decade ago.

The administration soon will decide whether to extend the presence of U.S. troops there. The goal of the American mission is to train Philippine troops to hunt Abu Sayyaf rebels, an Islamic extremist group.

The Bush administration wants more cooperation from Indonesia in countering terrorism.

It has been discussing the possibility of renewing military-to-military ties. Those links were suspended after widespread abuses by the Indonesia military were reported in 1999 in East Timor.

(China Daily July 29, 2002)

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