- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2001

BANGKOK As leaders in Southeast Asia solidify their support of the U.S.-led anti-terrorism campaign, they are struggling to ensure they don't alienate their own Muslim populations.

In Thailand, where Muslims represent just 4 percent of the population, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has warned against "stirring [the campaign] into a religious issue."

"This is simply a war against international terrorism, and it has nothing to do with any particular race or religion," Mr. Thaksin told Muslim leaders.

The prime minister has won the backing of Sawasdi Sumalyasak, the spiritual leader of Thai Muslims, who has called those behind the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States "destroyers of religion."

But Mr. Sawasdi and many other Muslims here strongly oppose the use of Thai soil as a staging ground for attacks on Afghanistan or other targets.

Polls here indicate that Thailand's 61 million people are evenly split over whether their government should offer concrete support in the anti-terrorism campaign. Two Thais are among the more than 6,000 people missing in the wake of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York.

Church leaders in the Philippines, where some 83 percent of the population is Catholic, gave their blessing to the war on terrorism.

Church teachings of forgiveness and nonviolence do not exclude "just punishment" for crimes committed against humanity, said Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.

Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has offered Washington the use of former U.S. bases north of Manila for plane refueling and transshipment of military supplies. The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs reported that two Filipinos are confirmed dead and are 115 missing in the wake of the Sept. 11 attack.

Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo is no stranger to the potential threat posed by Islamic insurgencies and terrorist gangs. Some 5 percent of the country's 82 million people are Muslims, most residing on the southern island of Mindanao.

The Abu Sayyaf, an extremist group with ties to Saudi terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, is holding two American hostages, Christian missionaries Martin and Gracia Burnham, seized along with 16 Filipinas from a beach resort nearly four months ago. Another American nabbed in the same incident is believed to have died in captivity.

Roilo Golez, the Philippines national security adviser, said over the weekend that the FBI is interested in interrogating several recently captured Abu Sayyaf leaders.

"It would be the height of naivete to think that by being neutral we would not get involved," said Mr. Golez, the security adviser to the Philippine president. "The lesson of so many world conflicts is that neutral countries, if they are strategically located, cannot help but get involved."

President Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia has been in the United States for much of the past week, meeting with President Bush, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and U.S. business leaders hoping to reassure them that the world's largest Muslim nation will remain safe for investment and expatriate workers.

But while she was away, the radical Islam Defenders Front threatened a roundup of all American citizens if the U.S.-led anti-terrorism coalition attacks Afghanistan. The idea was rejected by mainstream Muslim groups.

"We don't need to expel U.S. citizens, staging protests would be enough," said Imam Addaruqutni, chairman of the youth group of Muhammadiyah, the country's second largest Muslim organization.

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed has promised to support the war against terrorism but has called for a fresh look at the problems in the Middle East, Iraq and Chechnya.

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