Rich-poor divide hampers war on terror in Asia
PHNOM PENH: Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda organisation may be scattered, its leaders on the run and the suspected Bali bombers on trial but the tentacles of terror run deep in the poorer countries of Asia.
Cracking down on extremists bent on spreading their message through violence has become one of the greatest challenges faced by nations throughout southeast Asia, several with huge and often impoverished and alienated populations.
Some progress has been achieved by greater cooperation among richer, better technologically equipped countries such as Singapore and their less developed neighbours such as Cambodia. Cambodia and Thailand have both announced the arrests of at least eight suspected Islamic militants in the last few days. “I see the risk is relatively high,” said Makarim Wibisono, head of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation counter-terrorism task force in assessing the dangers to the region.
“In Asia there are differences in levels of stages of development,” he told Reuters in an interview in Phnom Penh where fighting the war on terror is high on the agenda of this week’s annual security meeting of the ASEAN (Association of South East Nations) Regional Forum. “There are countries that are rich like Japan and there are countries that are very poor so this kind of divide has the potential to be capitalised (on).”
The focus on terror will be high on the agenda of US Secretary of State Colin Powell when he joins the meeting on Wednesday and foreign ministers of Asia’s poorer nations will certainly take the opportunity to ask for financial help to boost their ability to counter terrorism.
“The issue of terrorism is closely linked to psychological tensions that exist in societies,” Wibisono said. “The more social and ethnic tensions that are there, the more vulnerable they are for terrorist activities.” In the last few days, Cambodia has announced the arrests of four suspected extremists with links to the Al Qaeda-affiliated Jemaah Islamiah group that is blamed in the Bali bombings. Thailand revealed last week that, working with intelligence from Singapore, it had cracked a plot to attack a summit of the leaders of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation organisation in Bangkok later this year.
Wibisono stressed the need for more agencies other than police forces to cooperate, and urged better coordination among Asia’s customs, coast guard and immigration as well measures to cut off the financial flows that keep terror networks alive. —Reuters