Military says terror threats in Mindanao isolated cases

The embassies of the two countries issued advisories against traveling to Southern Philippines after heavy fighting erupted in the island of Sulu between government forces and a group of MNLF commanders led by Ustadz Habier Malik on April 13.

The hostilities triggered the evacuation of at least 45, 000 residents. (See related story)

The military also reported the beheading of seven construction workers by the Abu Sayyaf in Sulu on April 20.

Major Randolph Cabangbang, spokesperson of the military's Eastern Mindanao Command said the reports on the clashes in Sulu must have been the reason behind the issuance of the advisories.

Cabangbang said another basis could be the possibility that other "lawless groups" might take advantage of the rift between the MNLF and the government.

He said forces of the EastMinCom are on alert in case incidents occur in their area of responsibility. Sulu is under the Zamboanga-based Western Mindanao Command.

"This is to prevent spillover of terrorist and lawless groups to our AOR (area of responsibility)," the military official said in a text message to MindaNews Saturday.

The US Embassy issued an advisory to American citizens on April 19 on the need for caution in Southwestern Mindanao.

The advisory warned that a terrorist group may be planning to carry out bombing attacks in the region "over the next several days".

It did not specify, however, where the supposed attacks would take place despite appeals from local tourism players in Mindanao to be more specific.

American citizens were asked to "carefully consider plans to visit Southwestern Mindanao." Those who are living and working in the region were urged to reassess their personal security and to keep a low profile.

The advisory said that high-profile events such as the Palarong Pambansa (National Games) in Koronadal City from April 22 – 28, 2007 should be avoided.

The Australian Embassy advisory gave out a stronger warning. It told its citizens not to travel to Mindanao, "including the Zamboanga Peninsula and the Sulu Archipelago" due to the "very high threat of terrorist attack."

"Recent credible information indicates terrorists may be in the advanced stages of attack planning. The attacks may be imminent and could occur at any time, anywhere in Mindanao. Davao City may be a particular target," the advisory stated.

The notice listed public places including but not limited to those in Davao City, Carmen, Isulan, Kidapawan, Cagayan de Oro City, General Santos City, Cotabato City, Maganoy and Pagadian.

"If you are in these areas you should consider leaving," it said.

The Department of Tourism has downplayed travel advisories addressed to specific citizens, saying these did not affect much of Mindanao's tourism industry in the wake of bomb explosions in Southwestern Mindanao last year.

Sonia Garcia, DOT Southeastern Mindanao regional director said that local tourists comprised the bulk of tourist arrivals in October.

Six persons died while 29 others were injured when a bomb exploded in Makilala town in North Cotabato on Oct. 10. Just a few hours before, four persons were also wounded in another bombing incident in Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat. Yet another bomb exploded in Cotabato City a day after, but none was reported injured.