Philippine president wants to expand Southeast Asian anti-terrorism coalition

The Philippine president wants to expand a Southeast Asian anti-terrorism coalition to include China, Russia and four other central Asian nations, citing a growing threat from militants in those regions. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told reporters that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao welcomed her proposal when they met Monday in Kuala Lumpur on the sidelines of regional summit meetings. "He liked the idea so that's something that I will be pushing through our diplomats," Arroyo told a news briefing late Monday.

Philippine has been battling an Islamic insurgency in its southern islands, which are close to Indonesia's Sulawesi and Maluku regions, Malaysia's Sabah and Sarawak states and Brunei. Those four countries agreed this week to regularly conduct joint patrols of that area, Philippines officials said.

But terrorists not only travel within those areas, they "also move between Central and Southeast Asia," Arroyo said.

Five ASEAN member countries, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, already have a pact to jointly battle terrorism by sharing information and closer cooperation of security agencies.

Arroyo said the pact could expand to include countries belonging to the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security group formed in 1996 and dominated by Russia, China and four ex-Soviet Central Asian nations.

Such a union of the two regional groupings would result in a wider anti-terrorist net that would restrict the movement of terrorists in Asia's central and southeast regions, Arroyo said, adding that the United States could play a role in the expanded anti-terrorist front. Arroyo is regarded as one of Washington's most vocal anti-terrorist ally in Asia.

Arroyo said she also discussed with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono the possibility of asking the United States and Australia to make a major investment in the Sulawesi Sea areas bounded by the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei. The investment could be in a new oil refinery, to serve as a catalyst to other investors and generate much needed jobs, she said, reports the AP. I.L.

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