BALI - Concern is growing that some Asian nations are not pulling their weight in the war on terror and need tougher laws to fight militants preparing fresh attacks, ministers at an anti-terror meeting say.

New Zealand Foreign Minister Phil Goff said it was essential for lagging nations to tighten their legal frameworks.

"We have a legal framework already, 12 United Nations conventions on terrorism. A great many countries in the region have not signed all of those or legislated for them. Some have signed only a few, some have signed none," he said.

Ministers from the Asia-Pacific region were wrapping up the two-day anti-terrorism talks on the Indonesian island of Bali, where Muslim militants killed 202 mostly Western holidaymakers, including three New Zealanders, in 2002.

"There are a lot of countries in the region that, because of their size or stage of development, have a long way to go," Mr Goff said.

Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said: "There is still some concern the legal frameworks within individual countries and between countries are inadequate to deal with terrorism.

"Between countries, there are questions like extradition, like obtaining evidence for prosecution. Within countries, there are questions about how adequate anti-terrorism laws are."

The meeting, co-hosted by Mr Downer and Indonesian counterpart Hassan Wirajuda, was attended by ministers and law-enforcement officials from 25 nations, including United States attorney-general John Ashcroft.

Mr Downer declined to identify countries that were falling behind but said one working group chaired by Australia and another by Indonesia would look into enhancing law enforcement co-operation and intelligence sharing.

Those groups could develop some form of regional extradition treaty and other conventions, he said, but gave no details or a timetable.

A senior Western diplomat said many Asian countries were either unable or reluctant to pull their weight.

Officials said the presence of Mr Ashcroft was a sign Washington too was concerned about reinvigorating the war on terror in the region and about the state of legislation in some countries.

A closing statement by Mr Downer and Mr Wirajuda revealed few new initiatives beyond a series of familiar pledges by nations to co-operate more closely.

During the conference, Mr Downer and a host of Asian ministers and officials urged countries in the region not to let down their guard. Mr Downer said fresh militant attacks were inevitable and militant groups were actively recruiting new members.

Australian and Indonesian officials spent much of the meeting thrashing out details of a planned joint anti-terror centre to be based in the world's most populous Muslim nation.

Mr Downer and Mr Wirajuda hailed it as a landmark in co-operation and an example to the region, but officials privately said many key aspects of the centre and how it would work remained unclear.

- REUTERS

Herald Feature: War against terrorism

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