CAMP SIONGCO, MAGUINDANAO, January 1, 2003 (STAR) By John Unson and John Paul Jubelag  – Eight people were killed while 33 others, two of them children, were critically wounded after an unidentified man hurled a grenade at a town plaza filled with New Year revelers in Tacurong City in Sultan Kudarat Tuesday night.

Authorities identified two of the fatalities as Albasi Lumomboy, 16, a resident of Tacurong, and Peter Valde-vieso, 19, of President Quirino, Sultan Kudarat, who died on the spot from shrapnel wounds.

The other fatalities were identified as Rene Palmonet, 20; Darwin Bombonga, 18; Federico Taygo, 32; Vergel Yano, 18; Forperio Baquillos, 18, and nine-year-old Christian Meje.

The two children listed in critical condition were Mark Evan Domingo, 7, and Mark Christian Nia, 9.

Initial investigation indicated that the bomber used a Mark II-type grenade, according to Capt. Onting Alon, deputy civil relations officer of the Army’s 6th Infantry Division based here.

He said a lone suspect casually approached the plaza before pulling out the grenade and lobbing it at a crowd of about 100 New Year’s Eve revelers.

Some of the victims were holding group prayers at the plaza when the attack occurred around 7:20 p.m., Alon said.

"So far no one has claimed responsibility. The number of fatalities may increase because many of the injured are in serious condition," he said.

Local police investigators said they are tracking down a vendor of powerful firecrackers whose merchandise were seized earlier that day.

Authorities have suspected that the vendor, whose name was withheld pending investigation, might have carried out the attack in retaliation for the confiscation of his goods.

Witnesses described the grenade-thrower as long-haired, clad in white shirt and denim pants. The suspect reportedly carried a side pouch.

Police investigators also said the suspect initially posed as a buyer before taking out the hand grenade from his pocket and hurling it toward the stalls, igniting the firecrackers being sold for the New Year celebration.

Police said the impact of the grenade explosion caused the secondary blast of the firecrackers, resulting in the carnage.

Philippine National Police (PNP) spokesman Senior Superintendent Leopoldo Bataoil said a special task force headed by Chief Superintendent Jose Dalumpines, Central Mindanao police regional director, has been formed to track down the suspect.

PNP chief Director General Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. ordered Dalumpines to exert all efforts to solve the case.

Col. Agustin Dema-ala, commander of the Army 301st Brigade based here, said they are also looking into the possibility that local secessionist forces might have carried out the grenade attack.

Dema-ala said the explosion might have been in retaliation for the military’s implicating a rebel group in the Dec. 24 explosion in Datu Piang which left the town mayor, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, and 17 other people dead.

"We are considering all possible angles in digging deeper into the possible motive for the bombing in Tacurong City plaza and the real identity of the suspect seen to have thrown the grenade on the victims," Dema-ala said.

The bombing in Tacurong City, about 100 kilometers southwest from here, was the sixth explosion that hit Central Mindanao in a span of one week.

Authorities said the Tacurong grenade attack came 30 minutes following another explosion along the road leading to Kabacan town in North Cotabato. No one was reported killed or injured in the incident.

A two-year-old girl was killed while her parents were critically injured in a grenade attack early Tuesday in General Santos City.

Investigators said a lone suspect hurled a grenade into the house of spouses Jimmy and Loreta Baja before fleeing.

Preceding the incident was another explosion in Lebak town in Sultan Kudarat which left a farmer, Edio Loreto dead and a militiaman, Eugenio Gabriel seriously injured.

Alon said the military investigators are certain that the spate of bombings that rocked Central Mindanao in recent days were unrelated since the attacks were apparently triggered by land disputes. – With reports from Christina Mendez, Roel Pareño, AFP

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