It's a crime not to cooperate
Source: Bangkok Post
Date: January 06, 2004
International crime syndicates are successful because the members work closely together. Defeating these syndicates requires countries to make best use of their pooled resources and to cooperate.
Devastating attacks in the South in the past few days add strength to Thailand's case for more cooperation on law enforcement at a regional conference on transnational crime opening here tomorrow.
In well coordinated attacks across 11 districts of Narathiwat early on Sunday morning four soldiers were killed in an assault that secured most of the camp's weapons and 17 schools were hit in arson attacks.
The "bandits" hit the schools first in what was seen as a diversionary tactic before launching their assault on the Narathiwat Ratchanakarin military camp, where they stole around 360 weapons, including M-16 assault rifles and sidearms.
Yesterday, two police officers were killed and several people were injured when two bombs exploded in neighbouring Pattani.
While there is no evidence outsiders supported the attacks, security officials suggest there might have been an outside incentive, saying the stolen weapons may be en route for sale to Aceh rebels in Indonesia.
The timing of the attacks seemed intended to exploit a possible lapse in security over the New Year holiday. But the choice of such a low news period could also have been a bid to draw the attention of present or prospective backers to the perpetrators' mettle, observers said.
The Foreign Ministry contacted its counterpart in Kuala Lumpur under a standing agreement on border security. The holding of dual nationality by southerners has long been suspected as helping Thai criminals escape across the border.
Though officials are blaming the raids in Narathiwat on "bandits", the victims, including the hundreds of school children who have lost their places of learning, have been terrorised. The regional conference beginning today should draw attention to this fine line between banditry and terrorism.
Transnational crime has been high on the international agenda, and has tested specialists, since the Sept 11, 2001 attacks, attributed to followers of al-Qaeda, brought down the World Trade Center towers in New York and damaged the Pentagon in Washington.
According to a European specialist who requested anonymity, terrorists are "globalising", changing strategies fast and moving "very quickly". Operating under no central command, and in many cells which are not closely connected, they are shifting targets from Europe to many parts of Asia, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Indonesia and the Philippines.
He pointed to the discovery of cells in Thailand and the arrest in Ayutthaya in August of Hambali, or Riduan Isamuddin, of the Jemaah Islamiyah group suspected to have masterminded the bombing of Bali nightspots in October 2002. Jemaah Islamiyah cells have also been detected in Australia and China.
The specialist said terrorists had links with international organised crime, and dirty money had been used to support their deadly cause. The way forward, he stressed, was to stop the flow of financial support to them.
Money laundering is one of eight types of transnational crime to be taken up by senior officials of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations kicking off the fourth Asean conference on transnational crime tomorrow. Terrorism, arms smuggling, human trafficking, drug trafficking, sea piracy, international economic crime and cyber crime are the other seven, according to Gen Winai Pattiyakul, secretary-general of the National Security Council.
The senior officials are expected to compile action plans on an Asean security community to be delivered to the meeting of ministers on Thursday. The theme of the conference is "Shared Responsibility towards Common Security".
Thailand will urge stronger cooperation on legal and law enforcement matters, and on the exchange of information and intelligence, said Justice Minister Pongthep Thepkanchana. Thailand would also ask for cooperation on illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
"The country needs serious and concrete cooperation from all Asean countries, who will greatly benefit," the minister said.
Thailand would also propose the establishment of a working group to harmonise the laws of Asean member states in an effort to improve law enforcement across the region.
To improve intelligence sharing, Thailand would propose the establishment of contact points in each country, and more workshops among the region's intelligence agencies.
Illegal migration had to be brought under control to stop criminals crossing borders in the guise of illegal migrants. At present, different standards leave lapses in Asean cooperation on immigration control. Poorer countries also need equipment and training.
"No one country in the region can combat the problem alone," Mr Pongthep said, "so united effort is much needed at this time."
Asean countries should have an integrated system for inspecting the arrival and departure of people moving about the region.
As drug trafficking enriches transnational crime syndicates, who use the proceeds to engage in other unlawful activities, Thailand hopes all Asean member states can agree to concrete and serious cooperation against the drugs trade. He pointed to the agreement forged between Thailand, China, Burma, Laos and India in July last year.
The Asean secretariat states that Asean has been trying to cooperate against transnational crime for more than two decades. The Declaration of Asean Concorde of February 1976 committed the founding member states _ Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand _ to intensify cooperation with "relevant" international bodies to "prevent and eradicate narcotics abuse and the illegal trafficking in the region".
Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam have subsequently joined Asean and adopted the declaration.
Asean extended the cooperation at a summit in Hanoi in 1998 to include efforts against money laundering, terrorism, sea piracy, arms smuggling and people trafficking.
The cooperation focussed on terrorism just over a month after the attacks on the United States, with Asean heads of state adopting a "declaration on joint action to counter terrorism" in November 2001. A year later, they issued a declaration on terrorism that condemned the attacks in Bali, and the cities of Zamboanga and Quezon in the Philippines.
The attacks in Narathiwat and Pattani, whether transnational or not, are a reminder that terror _ or banditry _ is close to home, and the root causes must be addressed before more lives are taken, and worse befalls an already insecure region of the country.
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