CEBU, Philippines (Reuters) - Bombs exploded in three southern Philippine cities on Wednesday, killing at least six people and wounding dozens, just days before a summit of leaders from 16 Asian countries.
Western governments have warned of bomb attacks by Islamic militants during the January 13-15 summit in the central city of Cebu, and said the violence-prone Mindanao region in the south of the country was a likely target.
Philippine officials said there was no threat to the summit. Presidents and prime ministers from China, Japan, India, Australia, South Korea and New Zealand will join leaders from the 10-member Association of South East Nations (ASEAN) at Cebu.
“Everything is safe and secure in Cebu,” Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo told reporters at a late-night briefing. “Therefore, the show must go on. What happened outside Cebu was retaliation to military operations”.
Police said at least six people were killed and 26 wounded in a blast at dusk at a crowded public market in General Santos City, a port about 400 km (250 miles) south of Cebu.
A few hours later, an explosion at Kidapawan City, also in Mindanao, wounded at least six people. A third blast in nearby Cotabato City wounded two others, police said.
There were no claims of responsibility, but the military said possible suspects included Islamic militants trying to sabotage peace talks between the government and the country’s largest Muslim separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
A senior police intelligence officer, in Cebu as part of a security clampdown in the resort city, said Abu Sayyaf militants, linked to al Qaeda, could have struck back after some of the group’s senior members were killed in gunbattles with the military in the past week.
In Cebu, preparatory meetings for the summit began on Wednesday. Regional foreign ministers tackled one of the thorniest issues facing ASEAN — how to deal with member nation Myanmar.
Romulo said he called for the reclusive nation to advance on its roadmap to democracy, and demanded the release of opposition leader and Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in some form of custody for 10 of the past 17 years.
Foreign ministers would discuss Myanmar again on Thursday, he said.
Officials said Southeast Asian leaders would call on China, the United States and other major players to revive deadlocked world trade talks as they push on with regional deals.
In a statement to be issued on Saturday, ASEAN will urge a high-level push to resolve an impasse over farm goods that has stalled global trade talks, they said.
“The statement will be quite clear that the ASEAN is an open regional grouping and is very much anxious to restart the Doha round negotiations this year,” said Jose Antonio Buencamino, a Philippine representative in the World Trade Organization (WTO).
“The leaders will call on major players to contribute a lot to this breakthrough.”
With time running short for the Doha round of trade talks — launched in 2001 in a bid to ease poverty and boost the global economy — Asian leaders are set to focus on cutting tariffs regionally when they meet.
The Philippines, which holds the rotating chairmanship of ASEAN, said the organization was aiming for a deal with Japan this year that would create a giant regional free trade zone.
ASEAN — which groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam — also hopes to ink a deal liberalizing trade in services between its members and China in Cebu.