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Foreign Minister says the threat of terrorist attacks against Australians in South-East Asia remains high.

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Friday 18 October 2002


Foreign Minister says the threat of terrorist attacks against Australians in South-East Asia remains high.


MARK COLVIN: Every day now come more warnings of mounting terrorist danger. The CIA director, George Tenet has told a Congressional panel in Washington that the risk of a new terror attack inside the United States is as grave and immediate as it was before September 11 last year. He said al-Qaeda had reconstituted, was coming after the US, and wanted to execute attacks.


Here in Australia, the Government is warning of the threat of terrorist attack, not just in Indonesia, but in other South East Asian countries as well. The official security warning level has been increased in the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Cambodia, Singapore, Burma and Laos. In East Timor, where the warning level was increased last month, the risks to Australians remain high.


Chief Political Correspondent Catherine McGrath.


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The threats in South East Asia are serious, but they're not uniform around the region.


Foreign Minister Alexander Downer:


ALEXANDER DOWNER: It is extremely important that Australians who are proposing to travel around South East Asia understand that there are real risks of terrorism in South East Asia. It's not an equal risk in every country, and in some countries the risks are pretty low; in other countries, they're higher.


CATHERINE MCGRATH: The country with the highest risk is Indonesia. In several other places the Australian Government is warning there is a high risk to Australians and Australian interests; these countries are Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia and East Timor.


In Malaysia, Australians are being warned to avoid public gatherings and tourist areas, and to keep themselves informed of developments that may affect their safety. They are being told to exercise extreme caution when travelling to certain areas in the state of Sabah and islands off the east cost of Sabah.


In the Philippines the advice is to stay away from certain areas on the island of Mindanao, such as Zamboanga, where two bombs exploded yesterday killing at least 6 people. Zamboanga has been dangerous for many years and it's not an area where many tourists go, however business travellers are advised to check with their local contacts before proceeding.


ALEXANDER DOWNER: We have been saying for a long time, people have to be very cautious in this era about the risks of bomb attacks, of other acts of terrorism in various parts of South East Asia - there was a bomb explosion in a shopping centre in the southern Philippines yesterday, another illustration of the point that there are dangers in a number of countries in South East Asia and people should be extremely wary and conscious of these dangers.


CATHERINE MCGRATH: In Singapore the risk is considered to be lower, however the warning level has been upgraded. The new Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Advice says:


"In view of ongoing risk of terrorist activity in the region, Australians should exercise extreme caution in Singapore. Australians should monitor developments that might affect their safety. In view of the ongoing military response by the international coalition to the terrorist attacks in the United States Singapore Airport remains on heightened alert."


The Government says expatriates should be extremely careful in places where foreigners gather, like bars and clubs. In Jakarta, the Australian Embassy held a meeting today, attended by about 500 expats, where they were told about the upgraded terrorist assessment for the whole of Indonesia and they were told about the Australian Government advice that they consider leaving the country.


Alexander Downer says it appears most expats in Jakarta want to stay.


ALEXANDER DOWNER: I think the Australian community is calm and in control. My impression is that most members of the Australian community still wish to stay on in Jakarta and in Indone sia. Of course, a lot of these people, most of these people are long-term residents, people who run businesses or work in businesses there or in professions in other occupations.


MARK COLVIN: The Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, ending Catherine McGrath's report.