Tue 10 Dec 2002
Back off: Malaysia warns Howard
Malaysia vowed to turn up diplomatic heat on Australia at Asia's biggest security forum unless the Australian government backs off on its claim of a right to launch pre-emptive strikes against terrorists outside its borders.
The remarks by Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar made clear that Malaysia - a nation often critical of Australia's position in Asia - has no intention of forgetting what it sees as a hostile statement by Australian Prime Minister John Howard.
Mr Howard said on December 1 that Australia reserved the right to launch unilateral strikes in other nations against terrorists plotting attacks on Australia and its citizens. He also said that the UN Charter should be amended to recognise this right.
Syed Hamid said that he would raise the issue at the ASEAN Regional Forum, which meets in July and brings together the foreign ministers of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations plus powers with interests in the region, from India to the United States.
"Any opportunity that I have, I will talk about it," Syed Hamid was quoted as saying by the national news agency, Bernama. "I think we have to discuss this sort of thing."
Syed Hamid said Mr Howard's declaration could "threaten the peace and stability of other countries".
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said earlier that he would view unilateral strikes as an act of war and has threatened to break off anti-terrorism cooperation unless Mr Howard quits acting like a "white-man sheriff in some black country".
Syed Hamid said that even many Australians opposed Mr Howard's stance.
"I think they know that Australia is very much dependent on its relations with this side," Syed Hamid said. "Australia cannot simply make statements without caring for the feelings or sensitivities of other countries."
Malaysia has taken a lead in Southeast Asia in cracking down on terrorism, detaining 70 suspected Islamic militants since mid-2001. Many of them were involved with Jemaah Islamiah, an al-Qaeda-linked group hoping to establish a hard-line Islamic state in Southeast Asia.
Jemaah Islamiah is blamed for the October 12 bombing attacks in Bali, Indonesia, which killed nearly 200 people, including at least 86 Australians. The group also plotted attacks on the US, British and Australian embassies in Singapore in a plot thwarted a year ago.
ASEAN members are Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.