The tiny minority of extremists has found a new place to hide. From The Australian, with thanks to Jean-Luc and Kevin:
TERRORISTS may already be hiding out in small Pacific islands because of lax border controls, Cook Islands Prime Minister Robert Woonton has warned.
He said the small island states of the Pacific were the “soft belly” of the international fight to stop terrorism, because of archaic security systems and a widespread lack of computerised passport records.
“We could easily be infiltrated by terrorists,” Dr Woonton told The Australian in Auckland, before returning to the Cook Islands, which are halfway between Australia and South America.
“Because we are seen as less sophisticated and less scrupulous about security, we are open for targeting by terrorist groups. It may be happening already, and unless we address security, it will become a real problem.
“We can’t keep burying our heads in the sand, saying nothing bad will ever happen in our region.”
A meeting of 15 Pacific leaders in Auckland this week agreed on a major overhaul of the Pacific Islands Forum, including greater powers for Australian-born forum chief Greg Urwin to call urgent meetings of leaders or foreign ministers when security or health crises break out.
The meeting also adopted the Pacific Plan, under which the forum’s Fiji-based secretariat is to examine ways of improving regional co-operation on security.
Dr Woonton said immigration controls at small island airports were rarely computerised, despite Australia’s aid program funding the installation of electronic passport-tracking technology at island airports. “That means people could travel to three different Pacific countries in the same day, without anybody knowing their movements,” he said.
“Many of the islands just don’t have the skilled IT people who can use this sort of sophisticated equipment.”
Dr Woonton hopes the Cook Islands will be able to begin using the technology later this year. “Often flights arrive (at Rarotonga airport) early in the morning and the immigration staff are not really awake — they’re just waving people through the gates with only the slightest glance at their passports. Of course, we want to welcome people in a relaxed way, but that’s not good enough.”