- The Washington Times - Monday, December 2, 2002

SYDNEY, Australia Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday he was prepared to act against terrorists in neighboring Asian countries and that the U.N. charter should be changed to allow nations to strike pre-emptively against terrorists planning to attack them.
His comments were criticized by governments across Asia.
Australia has one of the most powerful militaries in its region, with a modern air force and experienced special forces.
Mr. Howard's comments come as his nation observes how Southeast Asian countries deal with Islamic militants in the wake of the Oct. 12 bombings on Indonesia's resort island of Bali. The attack left nearly 200 people dead, almost half of them Australian tourists.
The al Qaeda-linked terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah has been blamed for the Bali attacks.
Though dozens of suspected Jemaah Islamiyah operatives have been jailed, many more are still believed to be operational. Australia has boosted security at its embassies overseas and warned that terrorists may also attack within Australia. Last week it closed its mission in the Philippines, citing a specific and credible terror threat.
"It stands to reason that if you believe that somebody was going to launch an attack on your country, either of a conventional kind or a terrorist kind, and you had a capacity to stop it and there was no alternative other than to use that capacity, then of course you would have to use it," he told Australian television's Channel Nine.
Asked if that meant taking pre-emptive action against terrorists in a neighboring country, Mr. Howard said: "Oh yes. I think any Australian prime minister would."
But he added, "There's no situation that I'm aware of at the moment that raises that issue."
In Jakarta, Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Marti Natalegawa said Australia did not have the right to conduct military strikes in other countries.
"States cannot willy-nilly flout international law and norms," he said.
Thailand's government spokesman, Ratthakit Manathat, said: "Nobody does anything like this. Each country has its own sovereignty that must be protected."
Philippine National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said Mr. Howard's comments were "not wise," adding that they did not "follow the doctrine of peacekeeping and sovereignty."
Australia has proposed a deal with the Philippines that may allow joint anti-terrorist operations and training in the two countries, according to a draft.
But a Philippine foreign affairs official, who asked not to be named, said the deal would not allow Australia to conduct anti-terror operations in the Philippines.
In 1999, Australia sent thousands of troops into East Timor as peacekeepers when Indonesia's army and its militia proxies killed hundreds of people after the territory voted in a U.N.-sponsored referendum for independence.
Australia, a longtime ally of the United States, deployed special forces to Afghanistan last year to help U.S. troops root out Taliban and al Qaeda remnants.
Mr. Howard said the U.N. charter should be altered to allow member countries to pre-emptively strike at terrorists.
He said the document was developed when conflicts were defined in terms of nations attacking nations.
"That's different now. What you're getting is non-state terrorism, which is just as devastating and potentially even more so," he said. "All I'm saying, I think many people are saying, is that maybe the body of international law has to catch up with the new reality."


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