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Asia sets stage for disaster relief exercise with key powers

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13 July 2008, 15:11 CET

News summary

(WASHINGTON) – After much debate, Asia is finally expected to agree to hold its first civilian-military disaster relief exercise with key powers such as the United States, Russia and the European Union.

It will set the stage for real emergency response to disasters, such as the recent cyclone that ravaged Myanmar and left 138,000 dead or missing as its ruling military junta came under strong criticism for blocking aid efforts.

An upcoming ministerial meeting in Singapore of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), Asia’s top security forum, may agree to hold the disaster relief exercise among its 27 member nations as early as 2009, a US official said.

ARF senior officials agreed in May to conduct such an exercise that could pave the way for militaries of ASEAN, China, India, the United States, Russia and EU member states to help coordinate a disaster relief response.

“So, I hope that at this meeting, we can move that to the next stage — to the point it is agreed and planning begins so that it could actually happen as early as next year,” US envoy to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Scot Marciel told AFP.

“I know next year sounds like a long time away but in the ARF world, it takes a while to have consensus on everything,” he said.

Asked whether the ARF foreign ministers would endorse the plan at their July 24 talks in Singapore, Marciel said, “I think it is a good possibility.”

“There is genuine interest and enthusiasm for this and political will is there.”

Disaster relief had been a hot topic in ARF since a tsunami swept through the region in December 2004 killing 220,000 people in a dozen countries.

The United States, Japan, Australia and India forged a loose coalition to help coordinate relief to victims of the tsunami, triggered by an undersea earthquake that struck off Indonesia.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to attend the ARF ministerial talks after skipping the annual gathering in Manila last year, an ASEAN diplomat said.

Aside from the ASEAN states of Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, ARF comprises Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, European Union, India, Japan, the Koreas, Mongolia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Russia, Sri Lanka and the United States.

The ARF, the principal official forum for security dialogue in Asia, adopted a set of guidelines for disaster relief cooperation at the Manila talks last year.

It also agreed to terms of reference for a troika comprising the incoming and previous ARF chairs and a non-ASEAN member to quickly convene during an emergency for decision making.

Marciel cautioned that certain “technical issues may get into the way” of a swift ARF disaster relief exercise.

They include sensitivities such as the issue of “military of one country operating in another country,” one State Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“There is a need to have agreement on that (but) there has been a lot of work done already on this in ARF,” Marciel said.

Asia is the world’s most disaster-prone region, at the mercy of tropical storms, earthquakes, floods, landslides and other calamities.

In May, aside from the devastating cyclone in Myanmar, an earthquake in China’s southwestern Sichuan province left nearly 88,000 people dead or missing and up to five million homeless.

Text and Picture Copyright 2008 AFP. All other Copyright 2008 EUbusiness Ltd. All rights reserved. This material is intended solely for personal use. Any other reproduction, publication or redistribution of this material without the written agreement of the copyright owner is strictly forbidden and any breach of copyright will be considered actionable.


Pictures of Disaster Relief Exercise

To provide realistic training in a RIMPAC humanitarian disaster relief exercise, local civilian Red Cross volunteers gather to play the roles of refugees. Photo by PH2 Lena Gonzalez, USN

Landing stores with Somerset’s Lynx helicopter to assist an earthquake-struck village in a disaster relief exercise

Firefighting Team after attacking oil fires as part of the Disaster Relief exercise during DANEX 06.

Firefighting Team after attacking oil fires as part of the Disaster Relief exercise during DANEX 06.

Servicemembers support El Salvador disaster relief exercise

Servicemembers support El Salvador disaster relief exercise

Members of Joint Task Force-Bravo unload a UH-60 Blackhawk in preparation for Fuerzas Aliadas Humanitarias 2008 May 4 at Comalapa Air Base, El Salvador. The American servicemembers are involved in the U.S. Southern Command and Salvadoran Ministry of Defense-sponsored disaster relief exercise. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. William Farrow)

PACAF Airmen participate in Exercise Balikatan '08

PACAF Airmen participate in Exercise Balikatan ’08

Master Sgt. Joseph Salvador explains the C-17 Globemaster III to members of the Philippine Air Force prior to taking off on mission Feb. 27 from Clark Field, Pampanga, Philippines during Exercise Balikatan 08. Sergeant Salvador is a loadmaster from the 204th Airlift Squadron Hawaii Air National Guard, Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. Balikatan is an annual combines bilateral exercise involving U.S. military and Armed Forces of the Philippines, subject matter experts from the Philippine Civil Defense Agencies and observers from Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand and Singapore working on humanitarian and disaster relief efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo)

Written by Lwin Aung Soe

July 14, 2008 at 12:20 am

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