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Intelligence: The Week Ahead
The Blow-Up in ASEAN; Battle Over Estrada; How Did an Indian Gangster Escape in Bangkok?
BY S. WAYNE MORRISON

November 27, 2000
Web posted at 5:30 p.m. Hong Kong time, 5:30 a.m. EDT


Repairing ASEAN Relations
How will the Singapore government respond to Indonesian President Wahid Abdurrahman's attack on it over the weekend? Perhaps more important, how will ASEAN respond? That there are, and always have been, strains in ASEAN is no secret. The 10-nation grouping brings together different forms of government (democracy, semi-democracy and authoritarian), different levels of economic development, as well as populations that are racially different or mixed and predominantly Muslim, Buddhist or Christian.

But no ASEAN leader - not even Malaysia's blunt-spoken Mahathir Mohamad - has delivered such a withering blast at a fellow member state as Wahid directed at Singapore. Apparently upset partly because ASEAN conference host Singapore had not picked up on his idea to bring East Timor and Papua New Guinea into ASEAN, Wahid suggested that his country and Malaysia join together to control the city-state's water resources to "teach it a lesson." He also said that before, only Mahathir had been brave enough to confront Singapore, but "now . . . Malaysia has a new friend." Other remarks: "Singaporeans despise Malays - we're considered non-existent." "They [Singaporeans] look after themselves. All they look for are profits." Wahid said that he had met Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who believed that he would soon step down as Indonesian leader.

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Under Suharto, Indonesia was dominant in ASEAN. While its economy is still reeling from the Asian Crisis, Indonesia has the largest population of more than 200 million in the grouping. ASEAN puts a premium on cooperation and non-interference. At the weekend, ASEAN and the countries of Northeast Asia agreed to work toward an East Asia Free Trade Zone and set up an annual East Asia Summit, goals that will require the full cooperation of all states. Indonesia, itself struggling economically, needs assistance and support from other countries. Indeed, during the early months of the Crisis, Singapore had made available substantial monetary assistance to its southern neighbor. Clearly, much diplomatic repair work will be needed in ASEAN following Wahid's outburst.

Estrada's Impeachment Battle
Impeached President Joseph Estrada is trying to have corruption charges quashed by the Philippine Senate, which is due to start trying him in December. Estrada's efforts to unplug the impeachment proceedings - plus planned big rallies in Metro Manila today - are this week's news. Tomorrow, Estrada's lawyers will hear the Senate's decision on their motion to have the charges thrown out. Today, the 11 congressmen who will act as prosecutors in the Senate are expected to file a counter-motion that Estrada's pre-emptive move not be accepted. Meanwhile, pro-Estrada circles are talking confidently of having the numbers in the Senate for the president to be acquitted if and when he goes on trial.

Bribery Allegation in Gangster' s Escape
How did seemingly bedridden Indian gangster Chota Rajan give Thai authorities the slip and escape from Samitivej Hospital in Bangkok on Nov. 24? Rajan had been under treatment for gunshot wounds, the result of an Indian mafia shootout in in Bangkok on Sept. 15. The attack on him was reportedly carried out by a gang of Pakistani gunmen hired by Dubai-based rival mafia boss Dawood Ibrahim. According to a recorded telephone conversation with his lawyer, Rajan paid 25 million baht ($600,000) to a Thai police general to be allowed to "walk free" from the hospital last Friday. In fact, he may have lowered himself by rope from his fourth-floor room or walked out an emergency exit. Thai police deny the bribery allegation. Rajan was facing extradition to India where he is facing 17 charges of murder and other counts. The Rajan case may prove to be another blow to Thailand's police force, which has a reputation for corruption. The reverberations from his escape are bound to continue at a time when corruption (particularly in the political system) has been under scrutiny in Thailand.

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