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ASEAN splintered over Afghanistan campaign

Bush and Jian
U.S. President Bush garnered full support from Asian leaders for his campaign against terror during the APEC Summit in China  

HONG KONG, China -- Asian leaders will reportedly sign a declaration backing the war on terrorism during the two-day summit South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Brunei on Monday.

But early signs have suggested that leaders of some ASEAN nations with large Muslim constituents are wavering in their support for Washington.

Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri, leader of the world's largest Muslim nation, on Thursday urged a ceasefire in Afghanistan.

Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has also made veiled warnings that bombs may worsen the problem of terrorism.

Observers have attributed this sudden change in stance to the growing civil unrest in their countries, which threatens their governments.

On the other hand, countries likes the Philippines and Singapore have continued to show their support for the United States.

War against terror:  Asia-Pacific reaction

The ASEAN summit comes just weeks after the leaders met at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Shanghai, China, where Washington won broad support for its war on terror.

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However, concern over mounting Afghan civilian casualties has multiplied since then, especially among Muslims in Asia who have opposed the bombing campaign from the start.

On Friday, Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar said Malaysia hoped the United States would change tactics before the onset of the Muslim holy month, which begins in mid-November.

"We hope it will not prolong (the bombing) into Ramadan because this is not a conventional war. It is a manhunt for the terrorists," Syed Hamid told reporters.

Regional concerns

Aside from the military campaign in Afghanistan, Mahathir and Arroyo are also expected to discuss moves to counter militancy in their countries and cross-border links between various Muslim groups, according to Reuters news agency.

Both Indonesia and the Philippines have their hands full containing separatists.

Malaysia also has arrested 16 men in the past three months in a crackdown on an Afghan-inspired fundamentalist group.

Asian leaders are also expected to tackle measures to revive their export-dependent economies, which have been severely affected by the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Leaders will talk about trade, the effects of the global slowdown, the need to engage China's burgeoning economic power, and how to develop their domestic market.

ASEAN is composed of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

This year's summit will be joined by China, Japan, and South Korea.


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