Malaysian Leader Threatens to Cut off Terrorism Cooperation With Australia Over Prime Minister's Comments
By Jasbant Singh
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP - 4 Dec) - Malaysia's prime minister threatened
Wednesday to break off counterterrorism cooperation with Australia unless
leader John Howard stopped behaving like "the white-man sheriff in some
The threat by Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad took Southeast Asian
outrage at Howard to a new level following his declaration that Australia
would reserve the right to launch pre-emptive strikes in other countries
against terrorists if they threatened his country or citizens.
Suicide bombings on the Indonesian resort island of Bali on Oct. 12
killed more than 180 people, about half of them Australians, and created
a new sense of vulnerability to terrorism in Australia.
In Canberra, the government called together senior diplomats from
Southeast Asian nations for a damage-control meeting aimed at explaining
the comments. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer did not
identify them or their countries.
Earlier, Downer tried to cool tensions by telling Australian Broadcasting
Corp. radio that Howard "did not suggest ... that Australia was going off
on bombing raids or sending troops into Southeast Asia. He made no such
comment at all."
But Downer refused to back away from Howard's stance that "all available
means" could be used to stamp out a terrorist threat, even if the
terrorists were based in another country.
"In those circumstances no prime minister would say that they would
willfully allow an attack on their people, and for their people to be
killed without him or her doing everything possible to try to stop it,"
Malaysia and Indonesia have said that they would view unilateral strikes
as an act of war, while the Philippines said that Australia will be seen
as wanting to dominate the region.
"Their government attitude is not welcome," Mahathir, who has long viewed
Australia as an unwelcome agent of the United States in the region, told
"We are cooperating as much as we can today in the fight against
terrorism," Mahathir said. "But if they are going to blame us, we would
have to re-think about cooperating with them."
Australia signed separate pacts with Malaysia and Indonesia this year to
combat terrorism through intelligence-sharing and training programs.
The Philippines, which has been a staunch supporter of President Bush's
anti-terror campaign, said Wednesday it remains opposed to Australia's
stand on pre-emptive strikes, even though Bush supported it.
"For us, we say let's respect the sovereignty of the nation, no matter
how small," presidential press secretary Ignacio Bunye said.
Mahathir said his government has no problem with Australians.
"Unfortunately, they have a leader who is totally insensitive and thinks
he is the white-man sheriff in some black country," he said.
Mahathir responded to a question about whether the Australian premier is
anti-Asia: "I think there is that element. I think not all Australians
support this kind of arrogant attitude of Howard."
Downer on Wednesday said Australia often felt the best course of action
with Mahathir was to ignore him.