Canberra - The threat of terrorism is driving Australia closer to its neighbours. According to Australian newspaper reports, Australia is ready to be part of an Asean anti-terrorism task force even though it is not a member of the Southeast Asian bloc.
The Sydney Sunday Telegraph said Indonesia is keen to set up a regional counter-terrorism task force. The idea is expected to be discussed during a meeting of the Asean Chiefs of National Police Conference (Aseanapol) in Jakarta this week, the paper added.
Australia's police chief, Mr Mick Keeley, will deliver a keynote speech at the meeting, which will also include the heads of criminal investigation and anti-terrorism from Asean's 10 member coutries. Mr Keeley's presence is seen as a sign of a new level of engagement in the region for Australian security experts.
In an interview with Australian television, Attorney-General Philip Ruddock said Canberra already has strong police and security links with the region and is working to build intelligence links and capacity in countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, reported Reuters.
For example, the Australian Federal Police helped Indonesian authorities to gather evidence following last month's Bali bombings and the 2002 Bali nightclub blasts. Australian police also worked with their Indonesian counterparts to track down "Demolition Man" Azahari Husin, who was killed in a gunbattle last week.
Mr Ruddock said: "Obviously, it's important for us to have the best possible intelligence arrangements within the region, and to improve capacity. We'll look at any arrangement that will enhance those capacities."
In Jakarta, senior Indonesian police officials told Singapore's The Straits Times that Aseanpol's agenda did not include a plan to discuss the regional task force.
Senior Indonesian police official, Brigadier-General Sisno Adi Winoto, said that Jakarta was open to discussing such a plan if it was mooted. But he cautioned that such a task force would require much funds, resources and facilities.
He noted that Asean already has an intensive network of cooperation and information sharing among its police forces, senior civil servants and ministers, which may be enough to tackle transnational crime.
* Australia may join Asean terrorism task force (The Straits Times, Nov 14)
* Asean upbeat on regional anti-terror links (The Jakarta Post, Nov 13)