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US leads drive to thwart extremists By Tom Allard and Ellen Connolly in Phuket January 4, 2005
The United States and Australia have made the humanitarian challenge in the tsunami disaster zone a security priority and plan to pour billions of dollars into the region to stop it turning into a breeding ground for Islamic radicalism and terrorism.
As the Federal Government put the finishing touches to long-term aid said to be worth about $500 million and announced funding for a new disaster victim identification centre in Thailand, the US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, said failure to rebuild South-East Asia could result in disaster victims turning to extremism.
Australian Government sources agreed that the region's long-term economic health was a crucial goal in the war on terrorism.
Mr Powell, who will attend an emergency tsunami summit in Jakarta on Thursday, along with the Prime Minister, John Howard, and the UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and other world leaders, described the relief effort as "an investment in our security".
"If nations are poor, if they don't see hope, if they're riddled by disease, if no one is helping them, then radicalism takes over, they lose faith in democracy and they start turning in other directions," Mr Powell told CNN.
Mr Howard is expected to announce the extra millions Australia is committing to the region, particularly Indonesia, at Thursday's summit. The Government is refusing to reveal the exact figure, but the Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, did not rule out that Australia's initial $60 million aid pledge could reach $500 million.
Before leaving yesterday for a tour of Thailand and Indonesia, Mr Downer said: "I need to talk with the Indonesians on Wednesday ... and the Prime Minister will be talking to people when he is at the summit ... So we will make announcements when it is appropriate. We will be prepared to do considerably more over time."
The parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs and trade, Bruce Billson, said Australia was prepared "to significantly increase its contributions above what's already been announced".
Global donations for tsunami relief are approaching $3 billion, with the death toll 144,590, including 13 Australians.
The ambassador to Thailand, Bill Paterson, said Australia would fund a multi-million dollar international laboratory in Phuket to identify the thousands of bodies across South-East Asia.
Experts in disaster victim identification from 19 countries will use DNA and dental records at the new centre, but the work could take years to finish. They will be led by Kenyon International, the disaster managers who identified victims of the September 11 and Bali bombings.
"It's a big commitment. It's an expensive exercise," Mr Paterson said. "You can't separate Australian bodies from other international bodies. We took a decision on the spot to fund this."
He said Australia had contracted Kenyon to carry out the work at the Ante Mortem Reconciliation Centre. Kenyon spent more than a year working in Bali, at a cost of about $1 million. Kenyon's spokesman, Phil Burfurd, said: "This will be really the centre now for official identification."
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