US played role in capture of top terrorists

National Security Adviser says arrests a sign of US-Asean security cooperation.

THE recent arrests of top terrorists in Indonesia and the Philippines are a clear indication of the close security cooperation between the United States and Asean, according to US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

“The White House believes in active engagement with South-east Asia,” he told a gathering of Asean ambassadors and guests commemorating the 40th anniversary of the regional grouping here on Thursday.

“We worked closely with countries in the region in the capture of several JI (Jemaah Islamiah) terrorists in the Philippines and Indonesia.”

In recent weeks, Jakarta struck a major blow against the Al-Qaeda-linked network that was responsible for a string of bombings in Indonesia by arresting several of its leaders.

These included Zarkasih, identified by Indonesian police as the head of JI, and Abu Dujana, the group’s military commander. Six other JI suspects were also nabbed.

There has also been a crackdown on extremist elements in the Philippines. The Philippine military’s recent success against Abu Sayyaf, for example, was due in large part to working closely with the US Special Forces.

In Indonesia, Australian police used American satellites to track the cellphones of two of the key terror suspects. Indeed, as the US becomes more concerned about difficult-to-track terror cells, it has gone for bigger ears in the sky.

Sources here told The Straits Times that much of the information about Zarkasih and Dujana’s whereabouts might have been tracked from a new eavesdropping facility in West Virginia.

It employs state-of-the-art technology to intercept mobile telephone signals and other communications around the world.

Mr Hadley, who also highlighted the close security cooperation with Singapore, noted that US ties with the region went beyond security links. Washington also had major economic interests in Asean, which was its fifth-largest trading partner.

“Asean will continue to have a friend and partner in the United States,” he said.

But there have been simmering concerns among Asean leaders that Washington is not paying enough attention to South-east Asia.

Indeed, observers believe that American engagement with the grouping reached a low in July 2005 when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice skipped the Asean Regional Forum – an opportunity for dialogue that Washington had not missed since its inception in 1994.

Republican Senator Kit Bond, who also spoke at the event, made clear that the US “must move now” to step up links with Asean.

“We must redouble our efforts to be committed in the region,” he said.

The Bush administration has been looking at ways to increase engagement amid concerns in Asia that it is too focused on the Middle East.

Mr Hadley, countering such views, said that President George W. Bush had visited more Asean countries than any other American president.

The US Senate has also unanimously passed a resolution highlighting 30 years of cooperation between Washington and Asean.

Under the plan, both sides will work towards a so-called US-Asean Trade and Investment Framework Agreement that will serve as a mechanism to ease trade and investment flows.

Republican Senator Richard Lugar, who proposed the resolution, also required Washington to work with the 10 member states of Asean in developing a regional energy strategy and appoint a US envoy for Asean affairs.

The resolution encouraged efforts to hold a US-Asean summit in Singapore in September to mark the 30th anniversary of a dialogue launched by the two sides.

Singapore’s Ambassador to the US, Professor Chan Heng Chee, who took the lead in organising Asean’s anniversary celebration on Thursday, said the September meeting would “bring the relationship to a new level”.

Visiting Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet called on Washington to “promote cooperation at all levels” with an Asean that was now “a more cohesive entity”.

“We need to deepen this relationship,” he said.

SOLID FRIENDSHIP

“Asean will continue to have a friend and partner in the United States.”
US NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER STEPHEN HADLEY

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