US to hunt terrorists in SE Asia ‘pretty soon’

Agence France Presse

Singapore, June 4:

US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld today said he hoped US forces would be hunting terrorists in Southeast Asia “pretty soon,” warning that Islamic extremists are targeting moderate Muslim states the world over. Rumsfeld made the remarks as he visited marines and sailors aboard the helicopter carrier USS Essex against a backdrop of oil tankers and freighters that ply the Strait of Malacca, gateway for a third of the world’s trade. “When are we going to start hunting some terrorists in this theatre?” a marine asked Rumsfeld. “Well, I would hope pretty soon,” the secretary replied. “We simply cannot wait for another

attack and expect to defend against it. We have to go out and find those terrorist networks and the people financing them, and countries providing a safe haven for them. “It is a tough thing to do.”

But a US-sponsored initiative to improve maritime security in the Strait of Malacca has run into opposition from Malaysia. “The entry of the United States is still open for Singapore but for Malaysia, we don’t agree to the entry of a third nation,” Malaysian Defence Minister Najib Razak was quoted as saying today by his nation’s official Bernama news agency.

About half the world’s oil supplies move through the narrow channel on the way to markets in Japan, China and South Korea.

Rumsfeld later told journalists the maritime security initiative was “an idea in its early stages” and would not affect any nations’ sovereignty. “Any implication that it would impinge in any way on the territorial waters of some countries would be inaccurate,” he said.

Controversy arose in April when the commander of US forces in the Pacific, Admiral Thomas Fargo, suggested one option was putting marines and special operations forces aboard high speed vessels in the strait. Admiral Walter Doran of the US Pacific Command repeated in Singapore today US assertions that Fargo had been misunderstood.

Aboard the Essex this morning, Rumsfeld emphasised intelligence sharing as crucial to defeating the maritime threat. “There is pressure being put on terrorists in this part of the world every day by the close cooperation we have, for example with our wonderful friends here in Singapore.” Rumsfeld also said Islamic radicals were bent on undermining moderate Islamic states. Rumsfeld, who arrived here yesterday for only his second visit to east Asia as defence secretary, is scheduled to address an international security conference here tomorrow.