NUSA DUA (Indonesia), Dec 17: Senior officials from 33 Asia-Pacific countries held talks on Tuesday in bomb-battered Bali on ways to starve terrorists of the money they need to commit atrocities.

A relatively small sum — 30,000 dollars in the case of the Bali bombing two months ago — can be used “to destroy a huge amount of business assets and opportunities,” said Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda in his opening speech.

“Hence if we can find a way by which terrorists could be denied access to the funds that are being pumped into their operations, undoubtedly we would be able to strangle it altogether,” he said.

Apart from national officials and private-sector executives, representatives of 14 international organizations are taking part in the two-day conference.

The venue in Bali was decided before the October blast which killed more than 190 people and severely damaged the island’s tourism industry. But keeping the location unchanged was an act of defiance, Indonesian officials have said.

The conference is being co-hosted by Australia, which lost 88 people in the blast. Regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah is widely accused of staging the bombing.

Australia’s Justice Minister Chris Ellison described money-laundering as a “great problem” in the region.

“It allows criminals to legitimise the proceeds of their illegal actions and it also provides terrorists with the money they need to carry out terrible atrocities,” he said in his speech.

Money-laundering worldwide is estimated to be worth between 800 billion and two trillion dollars a year, or 2.5 per cent of the world’s gross domestic product, he said.

Wirayuda said terrorism “is not a vocation for paupers.

“It needs and uses money to achieve their evil purposes, money to buy explosives and weapons, to secure airline tickets, to rent safe houses, to acquire sophisticated electronic equipment, to maintain training camps, to gather information and even just to sustain themselves.”

Both ministers stressed the need for international cooperation against terrorism but disagreement emerged later at a press conference about Australia’s warning to its nationals to avoid Bali.

Wirayuda said Bali was “much safer” than before the bombing. “We have conveyed our concern (about the advisory) to the Australian government at the highest level,” he said.

Ellison said the warning was based on “credible information which indicates a threat to Australians and Australian interests.”

He also played down a threat by Australian Prime Minister John Howard to launch strikes against terror groups in Asian countries, if necessary. The remarks caused a furore in Southeast Asia.

“I can tell you categorically that Australia is not planning any military action at all.”—AFP

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