Vientiane: Foreign ministers wrapped up Asia’s main security forum Friday with a pledge to step up intelligence sharing on terrorism, which they called a threat to the “peace, order and security” of the region.

Concluding a day of ministerial-level talks in the Lao capital of Vientiane, the 25-member ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) vowed to “better exchange relevant information and intelligence in a timely, effective, systematic manner.”

“The ministers reaffirmed the need to combat by all means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and international law, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts,” a final statement said.

In another signal of commitment to step up information sharing on terrorism, the ARF unveiled a new website which includes a restricted section aimed at speeding up the exchange of intelligence.

Most of the forum’s members, including Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members Indonesia and the Philippines, have suffered casualties in bombing attacks.

But the issue has gained renewed urgency with the deadly bombings this month in London and the Egyptian resort Sharm el-Sheikh.

This has reinforced the need “to increase the frequency and quality of intelligence exchanges to make sure that we’re much better coordinated,” Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told reporters here.

Another major topic on the agenda was the North Korean issue, said a senior Southeast Asian official.

The United States and North Korea resumed their dialogue for the fourth time this week in Beijing after a 13-month hiatus.

South Korea, China, Russia and Japan are also party to the talks on ways to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear programs. All the participants are also members of the ARF.

As defense officials from the ARF countries prepared Thursday for the ministers’ talks, South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-Moon met for the first time in a year with North Korean counterpart Paek Nam-Sun.

Ban said relations between the two sides were better than ever.

The Korean ministers sat side-by-side at the minister-level ARF meeting Friday, when the forum also welcomed tiny East Timor as its newest member.

They also agreed to accept Bangladesh as the 26th member next year.

The ARF dialogue concluded a week of annual talks between foreign ministers and officials in the 10-nation ASEAN.

That meeting was dominated by a row over Myanmar’s 2006 chairmanship, after the European Union and United States threatened to boycott the group’s meetings with the military government at the helm.

The ARF’s final statement expressed concern at the pace of democratisation in Myanmar and called for the country’s special UN representative, who has been barred for more than a year, to be allowed to return.

ARF’s agenda also called for increased cooperation against piracy on the region’s vital sea lanes and in responding to disasters like the killer tsunamis that swept the region last December.

The forum went ahead without the foreign ministers its three most powerful members: US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Japan’s Foreign Minister Nobutaka Machimura and China’s Li Zhaoxing.

Indian officials confirmed Friday that their foreign minister was also absent.

ARF was established in 1994 to foster dialogue and consultation on political and security issues.

In addition to ASEAN members Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, the ARF groups Australia, Canada, China, East Timor, the European Union, India, Japan, Mongolia, New Zealand, North Korea, Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Russia, South Korea the United States.