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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Site for ASEAN summit changed

THE Philippines announced yesterday a last-minute switch of venue for next month's ASEAN summit to be attended by John Howard and Alexander Downer, amid concerns the event will be a magnet for terrorist groups.

The December 10-13 summit will now be held at a hotel near an airport on the tiny island of Mactan off the coast from the central city of Cebu, instead of at the Cebu International Convention Centre, which is still being built.

While the hosts had assured the heads of government of ASEAN countries the venue would be completed in time for the four-day summit, "some foreign delegations expressed concern the convention centre will not be finished", said the deputy chief of the Philippines National Police, Avelino Razon.

"So the venue was transferred to Shangri La Mactan to satisfy the requirements of some of the foreign delegations."

Mr Razon said yesterday the security preparations for the ASEAN summit was "all systems go", with 10,000 police and more than 3000 soldiers detailed to provide protection for the ASEAN leaders and members of their delegations.

But Senior Superintendent Samuel Pagdilao, chief spokesman for the PNP, told The Australian last week the gathering of leaders from nations including Australia and the host country, both supporters of the Iraq invasion, had increased the likelihood of an attack by Philippines terrorist organisations Abu Sayyaf and Rajah Solaiman, and al-Qa'ida-linked imports such as Jemaah Islamiah.

Superintendent Pagdilao said Australia was working closely with local officers on intelligence sharing and police and bomb-detection training to combat the terror threat.

"We definitely see this conglomeration of heads of state, especially from countries like Australia that supported the US in the war against Iraq, to be a magnet for, or to attract terrorist groups," Superintendent Pagdilao said.

With the summit less than a month away, the Philippines military and police have still not succeeded in their three-month US-backed mission to seize southeast Asia's most wanted terrorists, the fugitive Bali bombers Dulmatin and Umar Patek, and allied Abu Sayyaf leader Khaddafy Janjalani.

The trio are thought to be hiding in the jungles of the southern Philippines. Dulmatin and Patek have been charged in absentia with murder over the terrorist bombings that killed six in Mindanao last month.

Organisers of the summit have for months been faced with claims the convention centre would not be ready and could compromise security.

The Philippine Star newspaper reported that delegates could be at risk because work had been rushed. "Scrap that over-expensive ... Cebu International Convention Centre. It's too rushed, unnecessary and the roof may collapse," it said.

Australia is not in ASEAN but will be part of a concurrent East Asia leaders summit.
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