'No proof' that pirates have
KUALA LUMPUR - US intelligence services have found no evidence
that pirates operating in the narrow Straits of Malacca have links
to terror networks in South-east Asia, a senior US admiral said
Admiral Thomas Fargo, commander in chief of the US Pacific
Command, told reporters there was no evidence that heavily armed
pirates attacking fishing vessels and other traffic in the vital sea
lane had ties with groups such as Jemaah Islamiah (JI).
'I don't have any direct linkages between the pirates and the JI
but we do know that terrorists have used the maritime opportunities
to advantage,' he told a news conference, referring to attacks on
naval and commercial vessels in the Middle East.
Singapore, whose busy container port lies at the straits'
southern end, has hinted at connections between pirates and groups
such as JI, which carried out a bombing on Indonesia's Bali island
in 2002 and is widely linked to Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda
Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan said this month that a
recent pirate attack on a container ship in the straits included
military-style tactics employed by terror groups.
Singapore calls for tighter security and US help in policing a
sea lane carrying more than a quarter of world trade and half its
oil have riled neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia.
Maritime security was the main issue for Adm Fargo's trip to
Malaysia that included meetings with Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi,
his deputy and the foreign minister.
Malaysia pledged to work with Washington through sharing
intelligence and joint exercises in the area.
Adm Fargo tip-toed around questions about possible deployment of
US special forces to help police the straits, stressing the primacy
of intelligence sharing and training efforts.
'We're going to operate and collaborate and consult with the
nations of this region as they desire. We expect each nation to take
action within their own sovereign space to deal with these
problems,' he said in reply to questions on Singapore's desire for
direct US involvement.
Washington also plans to hold talks with other Asian nations on
what it calls its Regional Maritime Security Initiative, an as yet
ill-defined plan to boost cooperation.
Adm Fargo said the initiative aimed to put a system in place for
the seaways that would match what exists for the world's airways,
letting the authorities know what vessels are at sea, their routes,
cargoes and passenger details.
'We need to gain that kind of clear view of the maritime space,'
Malaysia said on Tuesday it had sent soldiers to a tiny island in
the straits to fight piracy and beef up security.
Ten soldiers were sent to the island off the northern state of
Kedah and more could be sent to other islands, Defence Minister
Najib Razak said.
The United States has stationed customs officers at Malaysia's
two main ports along the straits to check US bound container cargo
for any terrorist risk. \-- Reuters
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