Wed, 02 Aug 2000

Gus Dur claims Philippine rebels linked to blast

YOGYAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid said he believed the bomb explosion outside the residence of the Manila envoy in Jakarta on Tuesday was linked to violence in the southern Philippines.

"This, I think, is related to the problems in the southern Philippines, maybe related to the kidnapping in Jolo or the problem of the MILF," Abdurrahman told reporters after attending a meeting of top leaders here.

Gus Dur, as the President is popularly called, said he would call Philippine President Joseph Estrada to express his sympathies.

"We are sad, and we regret this and offer our sympathies," said Abdurrahman, adding he has ordered the police to probe the blast.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Alwi Shihab said he had spoken by telephone with his Philippine counterpart Domingo Siazon and he "fully understands" that the incident was not an effort to jeopardize the relations between the two countries.

"The minister fully understands that terror like this can happen anywhere and the Indonesian government was not involved in this incident," Alwi told The Jakarta Post.

The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) is the largest Moro rebel group in the southern Philippines and has been implicated in a string of bomb attacks in its own territory. But a spokesman for the MILF, Eid Kabalu, denied it was involved in the Jakarta attack.

Kabalu was quoted by AFP as saying that "the MILF is definitely not involved in this attack against a Philippine diplomat in a Muslim country.

"We have no plan or action such as this," he said. The organization did not have the capability to mount bomb attacks in a foreign country, he added.

There was no immediate reaction to the bombing from the Abu Sayyaf, a smaller Moro group which is holding 17 hostages on the island of Jolo in the southern Philippines.

The Philippines government said the attack was the first of its kind on Filipino diplomats abroad.

"Really, it's surprising. This is the first time and secondly we didn't expect that to happen. We have no experience of a bombing incident in our embassies abroad," National Security Adviser Alexander Aquirre was quoted as saying by the news agency.

"We'll find out what this is all about," he said.

Whether the explosion was an assassination attempt on Ambassador Leonides Caday could not be immediately established, but Manila is not ruling out the involvement of Filipino or foreign extremists, foreign department spokesman George Reyes said.

Philippine Vice-President Gloria Arroyo condemned the attack as "a senseless terrorist act that will achieve nothing for its perpetrators."

Reyes said the bombing was the "first attempt" of its kind against Philippine diplomats or government interests abroad, adding that there was no forewarning that the attack would occur.

Filipino diplomats and embassy personnel in other countries have been ordered to "be on a high state of alert for similar incidents," he said.

Asked if the attack was tied to the rise of Islamic movements across Southeast Asia, Reyes said: "We are not excluding any and all possibilities."

Hospital authorities in Jakarta said the ambassador was being treated for two broken thigh bones but his life was not in danger.

Amien Rais, chairman of the People's Consultative Assembly, also denounced the blast as an act of terrorism.

"This is an act of terror which can ruin Indonesia's international image, because the Philippine ambassador was injured and had to be rushed to hospital," Amien said after attending the Yogyakarta meeting.

"This is a very embarrassing action because it took place in the capital and the bomb blew up in broad daylight," Amien added.

He urged police to find and arrest the culprits as soon as possible.

Arroyo, acting for President Joseph Estrada who is touring the United States, said security would be stepped up at all embassies and overseas Philippines government facilities in the wake of the attack.

Meanwhile in Bali, Randy M. Caluag, the manager of the Philippines team in the 19th President's Cup international boxing tournament, said later in the day that the blast "did not affect the spirit of the team".

"The spirit of my team is still high, as you can see we already won two semifinals and I see no reason to ask for more security," Caluag said. (44/dja/swa/zen)