Philippine forces step up offensives against militants
To keep Asean foreign ministers forum secure.
MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- The Philippines has intensified offensives against al-Qaida-linked militants to keep them from plotting attacks during an annual foreign ministers' forum in Manila, officials said Thursday.
The July 22 to Aug. 2 meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia's largest security grouping, will bring together more than 20 Asian and Western foreign ministers and hundreds of personnel.
Keeping them secure has been a top government concern.
Among the invited VIPs are U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, although there are indications he may not be able to attend. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Russia, the European Union and the United States are sending their top diplomats, according to a meeting schedule.
The Philippines has offered to host a meeting of the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear disarmament on the sidelines of the ASEAN conference, but there has been no confirmation, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
A security assessment has pinpointed no specific threat against the high-profile meetings, but troops have intensified intelligence-gathering and offensives against militants who could attempt to disrupt the gatherings to embarrass the government, said acting Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales.
"We're doing standard security preparations," Gonzales said. "We're trying to capture certain people." He did not elaborate.
Police in the southern region of Mindanao have been ordered to closely monitor al-Qaida-linked groups like the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah, but have not monitored any specific plot against the ASEAN meetings, a police intelligence official said on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.
Security forces were also trying to track down the few remaining members of the Rajah Solaiman Movement, a radical Islamic convert group that has been linked to deadly bomb attacks and has members on northern Luzon island -- where Manila is located -- the official said.
Last December, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's government abruptly postponed a summit of 16 Asian leaders in central Cebu province, citing an incoming typhoon.
The typhoon largely missed the summit site, bolstering speculation that the postponement was prompted by Western embassies' warnings that al-Qaida-linked militants were in the final stages of preparing an attack on the heavily secured summit.
The Philippines has been hosting ASEAN meetings as the 10-nation bloc's current chairman. It turns over the chairmanship, rotated alphabetically, to Singapore on Aug. 2.
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