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Australian PM defies warning ASEAN nations focus on counterterrorism 


By Francis Earl Cueto, Reporter

Australian Prime Minister John Howard will attend the Southeast Asian Summit in the Philippines next week despite warnings of terror attacks, his spokesman said Tuesday.

Howard's own government has in place a travel advisory warning citizens against visiting Cebu, where the summit will be held, but the prime minister will fly there on Sunday, the spokesman told the wire agency, Agence France-Presse.

The 12th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Summit, postponed last December, kicks off today, mainly focusing on counterterrorism as well as key security issues and trade issues.

Foreign and trade ministers will start arriving today and leaders begin flying on Thursday.

Aside from Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and New Zealand have all issued travel advisories against travel to Cebu.

"Recent information suggests terrorists are in the final stages of planning attacks," the Australian advisory states.

Major issues

Among key resolutions to be adopted is a legally binding "Convention on Counter­terrorism."

A draft calls on the nations to improve cross-border cooperation to prevent attacks, share intelligence and training, curb terror financing and rehabilitate convicted terrorists to prevent repeat attacks.

The summit is also expected to endorse energy security goals for a region that seeks to reduce its dependency on oil imports from the Middle East.

Among them, ensuring a stable energy supply through investments in regional infrastructure, such as an Asean power grid and a gas pipeline, and exploring models for stockpiling fuel.

The 40-year-old bloc began liberalizing trade in goods in 1993 and aims to become a single market and production base by 2020.

But some members want the Asean free-trade area realized by 2015 to ensure the region stays competitive and catches up with China.

High-profile advisers from a so-called Eminent Persons Group, led by former President Fidel Ramos, will submit recommendations to Asean leaders for radical changes in a long-overdue proposed charter.

Ramos said earlier that changes include an easing of a fundamental Asean policy—which forbids member countries from interfering in each other's domestic affairs—to allow sanctions when members fail to comply with the group's edicts.

Countries like Myanmar have invoked that cardinal policy in the past, effectively blocking fellow members' prodding to improve its dismal human rights record and move more rapidly toward democracy.

GMA assurance

President Arroyo assured Asian leaders Monday that security was in place to prevent attacks.

"As we face the Asean Summit, we would like to assure all our allies in East Asia and beyond that the Filipino soldiery and people are on watch every hour of the day, determined to do their share to defeat terror for a more secure and safer world," she said.

Mrs. Arroyo said the meetings in Cebu "will sustain the momentum in our collective fight against terror and in mopping up all forms of instability" that affect the region.

Her statement came after troops killed six al-Qaeda-linked militants in a maritime clash in the south of the country at the weekend.

Leaders of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are to converge in Cebu this week for the annual Asean Summit.

Their counterparts from Japan, South Korea, China, India, Australia and New Zealand will join them for the Asean Summit on Monday.

The summits were originally scheduled to take place in December, but were postponed at the last minute, reportedly over concerns about possible terrorist attacks.

Aside from President Arroyo, attendees to the leaders' summit are Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, prime minister of Malaysia; Lee Hsien Loong, prime minister of Singapore; Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam Hun Sen, prime minister of Cambodia; Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, president of Indonesia; Bouasone Bouphavanh, prime minister of Laos; General Surayud Chulanont, prime minister of Thailand; Nguyen Tan Dung, prime minister of Vietnam; Soe Win, prime minister of Burma (Myanmar).

Jose Luis Guterres, foreign minister of East Timor, will also be there as an observer and will sign the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia.

The Philippines also invited Ban Ki Moon, former South Korean foreign minister, but he is busy settling in to his new role as secretary general of the United Nations.

Burma's military leader, Gen. Than Shwe, turned down the invitation and did Pascal Lamy, World Trade Organization director general; as well as foreign ministers from Australia and Japan. Taro Aso of Japan will be away on a trip to Eastern Europe. Vice Foreign Minister Katsuhito Asano will attend instead. Alexander Downer of Australia is unable to attend due to a timetable clash. Australian ambassador to the Philippines, Tony Hely, will represent him. - AFP

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