EU military committee chief visits South-East Asia


Bangkok : The European Union is interested in boosting cooperation with South-East Asia in fighting piracy in the Malacca Straits, disaster relief and peacekeeping missions, the EU chief representative for military affairs said in Bangkok Wednesday.

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“This is the first time the chair of the EU Military Committee visits South-East Asia,” said General Henri Bentegeat, who arrived in Bangkok Tuesday and is to travel to Jakarta Thursday, on a trip to enhance future cooperation between the two regions.

Thailand is the current chair of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and Jakarta is home to the ASEAN Secretariat.

Unlike the US, Europe has not played an important security role in South-East Asia in recent history, although the EU participates in the annual ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia’s main security event.

In April 2010, the EU is expected to join ASEAN’s Treaty of Amity and Cooperation at an ASEAN-EU summit in Spain, which some see as a first step to closer security ties between the organisations.

“What we need is a framework in order to be able to cooperate wherever it is possible,” Bentegeat said.

Areas of interest for future cooperation include maritime security, disaster relief and peacekeeping operations, he said.

“Maritime security will certainly be one of our first possible domains of cooperation,” he said, adding that the EU had invited ASEAN members to attend its seminar of maritime security in the Indian Ocean and Malacca Straits in November.

He said the EU could also share its experiences with ASEAN states that are now participating in peacekeeping missions, especially relating to Africa.

On disaster relief, Bentegeat noted that the EU and ASEAN could devise a better framework for cooperation in preparation for disasters like the 2004 tsunami.

“We could imagine some coordinated action between some EU navy assets available for a special mission at any time,” he said.

Thousands of European tourists were among the victims of the Dec 2004 tsunami, which hit Indonesia and Thailand’s Andaman Sea coasts with a devastating toll on lives and property.