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AUGUST 11 , 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 31 | SEARCH ASIAWEEK


Weda - AFP
Philippine ambassador Leonides Caday screams in pain as he is pulled from his car.

Who Bombed the Diplomat?
Theories abound as Moro rebels are blamed
By PENNY CRISP

If the bomb that seriously injured the Philippine ambassador to Indonesia last week really can be traced to Muslim separatists from Mindanao, Asia's regional security apparatus has a large new problem to deal with. If it isn't, then Indonesian security police are making no headway against a recent rash of terrorist acts in the restive republic. Already private security complements have been banned from Ja-karta for the annual session of the supreme legislative body, the People's Consultative Assembly, which was to begin Aug. 7. Under political fire over Indonesia's manifold problems, President Abdurrahman Wahid nevertheless is expected to avoid any attempt to oust him during the 12-day meeting. But thousands of government forces were put on alert ahead of the session.

Such caution did not save a security guard and a nearby stall-holder at the Philippine ambassador's Jakarta residence on Aug. 1. Police believe the 70-kg TNT bomb that killed the two and injured 21 others was planted in a parked van, which exploded as ambassador Leonides Caday was being driven through the gates. The 70-year-old, who suffered multiple leg fractures, believes the bombing was personal and not politically motivated. But Wahid, fresh from a crisis meeting with the country's top political heavyweights in Jogja-karta, described the blast as "a foreign effort to discredit the Philippine government" — and pointed to the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front. The MILF, which has never before been accused of an attack abroad, denies responsibility.

Other theories abound. Philippine Defense Secretary Orlando Mercado, who is seeking special counter-terrorist cooperation from Malaysia and Indonesia, says MILF denials cannot be trusted. From the U.S., where he was concluding an official visit, Philippine President Joseph Ejercito Estrada said he had "a very strong suspicion as to who is behind this." He said he would contain his doubts until Indonesian authorities announced their findings. Sources say Estrada's cabinet quickly compiled a list of suspects. Stratfor Inc., a Texas-based think-tank, believes the choice of target "strongly suggests the work of Filipino militants or their allies." It adds: "This incident could be the leading edge of an alarming trend — local rebels are taking the fight abroad."

Indonesian officials, however, have not ruled out problems of their own. National police chief Gen. Rusdiharjo says there are many internal possibilities. His department has investigated similar incidents in Medan and Jakarta in the past few months — neither of which have been "claimed." Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab believes the latest bombing is likely the work of those still loyal to ousted president Suharto, "trying to divert attention by making it look as if it comes from the Philippines." And some foreign intelligence sources believe Philippine rebels are selling arms to Indonesians. Whatever the truth, Asia just became a more dangerous place.

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