Terror threat shuts down Asian summit, say sources

The threat of a possible terrorist attack was the main reason for postponing a South-east Asian summit due to start on Sunday on the Philippine island of Cebu, foreign ministry sources said.

The Philippines government earlier blamed a building tropical storm in the Pacific for calling off the summit, the first such cancellation in the history of the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean).

It came a day after Australia, Britain, the United States and other nations issued a warning about Cebu due to threats of a terrorist attack. Australia said attack plans were in the “final stages”.

“The threat of a terrorist attack was one part and the other part was the political situation in Manila,” said one of the sources at the foreign ministry, confirming an earlier report in the Philippine media.

President Gloria Arroyo had hoped that the annual summit of the 10-nation Asean bloc would be a success for her beleaguered administration, and her government repeatedly insisted the security situation was under control.

But the Asean summit and a wider East Asia meeting of regional leaders including Japan and Australia, both supporters of the US-led “war on terror”, was postponed by her government on Friday.

Officials blamed a looming storm headed toward Cebu, the resort-studded island where political leaders and top diplomats were due to hold days of talks on everything from the fight against terror to a regional free-trade zone.

Many were immediately sceptical of that announcement, noting that Tropical Storm Utor had not yet developed into a typhoon, was unlikely to hit Cebu City directly and was not especially strong on Friday.

Two sources at the Philippine foreign ministry said the summit had been postponed due to a “terrorist threat” but did not elaborate.

Just before Friday’s postponement was announced, an official of the justice department’s National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) told reporters that police had been put on alert for a possible threat to Cebu’s water supply.

The official, who spoke openly with reporters but declined to be named, said there were fears that two chemical spills earlier this month may have been test runs for an attack on Cebu’s water source.

Officials from Asean member Indonesia said their delegation would be flown out of Cebu on Saturday on a special flight.

Diplomats said they expected some of the ministerial meetings to go ahead as scheduled but that a reduced programme was expected.

The postponement comes at a time of heightened political tension in Manila over the government’s plans to amend the Philippine constitution.—AFP

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