Abus bomb Koronadal; 3 die
- John Paul Jubelag () - July 11, 2003 - 12:00am
KORONADAL CITY, South Cotabato — A bomb exploded at a crowded market here yesterday, killing at least three people and wounding 31 others, including children watching a video game, officials said.

Military spokesman Lt. Col. Daniel Lucero said the bomb was left in a video game stall, but other reports said it exploded in a used clothing shop or a vegetable stall near the game booth.

"There are many children among the casualties, both among the dead and wounded," Lucero said.

Lucero initially cited sketchy reports as saying six people were killed, but local hospitals initially confirmed only three dead and 26 wounded. Nine of those wounded are listed in critical condition.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Lucero said their initial findings indicated a combined team of Abu Sayyaf terrorists and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) guerrillas was behind the bombing.

President Arroyo is set to fly here today to inspect the damage and condole with relatives of the casualties and with the wounded, Malacañang said last night.

Lucero said the bombing was apparently carried out to divert pursuit operations against the Abu Sayyaf earlier spotted in Sultan Kudarat last Wednesday.

The military said Abu Sayyaf leader Khaddafi Janjalani and his heavily armed men landed at the shores of Palimbang town and were spotted by villagers.

The Armed Forces launched pursuit operations against Janjalani who reportedly met with unnamed MILF leaders in the province.

The explosion was the third to hit the market in five months. The first bombing occurred Feb. 21 near the office of the Civil Security Unit office when an improvised bomb went off, woundng three barangay watchmen.

The second explosion occurred May 10, leaving 10 people dead and 26 wounded. Both blasts were blamed on the MILF.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Joselito Kakilala said the initial findings by bomb experts in the area revealed the bomb that exploded yesterday was composed of black powder with shrapnel pellets.

Kakilala said analysts will study if the black powder is similar to the explosives cache seized by the military at an MILF camp in Kabuntalan, Maguindanao last month.

The military revealed the explosive device used in the bombing was similar to the previous bombing in Midsayap, North Cotabato last May 25.

Maj. Gen. Generoso Senga, commander of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division, also said the explosive device was similar to those used in previous attacks blamed on the MILF.

MILF spokesman Eid Kabalu denied that separatist guerrillas were behind the latest blast.

"We highly condemn this act. This is entirely unacceptable to the MILF," Kabalu said.

"We have no reason to do something like this," he said, citing the current effort to restart the stalled peace process with the government.

Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye said he anticipated that the MILF might come under suspicion but remarked the peace process would continue.

"The President strongly condemns this terroristic act but we will try to go after the perpetrators of this incident," Bunye said.

"We’ll make sure that they are brought to justice, but at the same time, we should keep the doors open for those who genuinely desire peace in Mindanao," he said.

Bunye stressed the incident is still under investigation and it was not yet clear who was involved.

He said the bombing should not derail peace talks. "We have made a significant headway, and we should not throw some obstacles to the pursuit of genuine peace for those who earnestly want to have peace in Mindanao," Bunye said.
Just before the fiesta
Police said the bombing occurred just as the city was preparing for its fiesta celebration.

Investigator Felipe Natividad said residents had been bracing for possible attacks since Friday, the start of week-long activities leading up to an annual city festival July 18.

Central Mindanao police director Chief Superintendent Manuel Raval said witnesses were providing descriptions of suspects, and police and troops sealed off the city in an effort to prevent the bombers from fleeing.

Raval also ordered the deployment of an additional team of bomb experts to scour the area on reports of still unexploded bombs in the vicinity of the market.

Superintendent Jose Geli, Koronadal City police chief, said witnesses recounted seeing a suspect run out of the public market before the explosion took place at about 2:45 p.m.

"One of the witnesses said that the suspect was wearing maroon pants," he said.

Geli identified two of the fatalities — Nieves Peralta, 40, a vegetable vendor and Bai Masla, 11, a plastic wares vendor.

Most of those wounded were taken to South Cotabato Provincial Hospital for treatment.

Local officials feared the death toll could rise, with at least nine of the wounded in critical condition.

Koronadal Mayor Fernando Miguel said a manhunt for the bombers was underway as authorities immediately made public sketches of the three suspects.

"I am not yet officially releasing a statement, regarding the suspects and who they may be. I have to make reservations. I don’t want to divulge it at this time," Miguel said.

Reports also quoted witnesses saying they saw a woman’s legs blown off and bodies strewn on the ground.

"There was a very loud explosion, and I suddenly saw many people down on the ground," one of the injured, Nely Aniversario, said as she was being treated for shrapnel wounds in her right thigh.

"I felt the big impact myself and was injured, so I ran away from the scene and hid in a stall and found more people hiding there. Now, I can hardly hear," she said.

For her part, South Cotabato Gov. Daisy Avance-Fuentes, who earlier blamed the MILF for the bomb attacks in the province, refused to comment and said, "Wala pa akong maisip (I have no idea who did it)."

She said that the market was busy and vulnerable to attacks. It was crammed with residents who traditionally do their weekly shopping on Thursday, she added.

Fuentes said they are determined to push through with the week-long celebration, which kicks off on Monday highlighted by the 4th T’nalak Festival. -With reports from Mike Frialde, Roel Pareño, Marichu Villanueva, AP, AFP, Reuters

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