Military leaders from Southeast Asia say closer cooperation and intelligence sharing are the best ways to combat an increasingly international terrorist network. But they were split on proposals for joint military exercises.
Tuesday's conference is just the latest move to create a more coordinated response to terrorism in Asia. The terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah has long operated across borders in Southeast Asia, and at the meeting, the top army leaders from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations agreed to share more information.
Malaysian army chief General Azumi Mohamed spoke to reporters after the meeting: "What is important is the exchange of information or intelligence - we need that. We have agreed that we will be transparent, we will keep each other informed and keep each other posted…. Bilaterally, there are always these forums where intelligence is exchanged amongst the ASEAN member states."
Jemaah Islamiyah has been linked to the al-Qaida terror network. Its members have been found in five of the 10 ASEAN nations - Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. J.I. carried out the deadly Bali bombings in 2002, last year's attack on a hotel in Jakarta and numerous attacks in the Philippines.
There have been a number of significant improvements in cooperation among regional security forces in recent months, most notably the agreement to mount coordinated naval patrols in the Malacca Strait, which separates Malaysia and Singapore from Indonesia. Nearly a quarter of the world's shipping passes through the strait, a tempting target when Islamic militants already have shown an aptitude for attacking maritime assets.
The head of Indonesia's army, General Ryamizard Ryacudu, said Tuesday he wants to see joint exercises among the forces of the region. The ASEAN commanders made no immediate decision on that suggestion.
Indonesia, which holds the rotating presidency of ASEAN, has suggested setting up a joint regional defense force, but the idea has received a lukewarm response from other members of the group.