IRAQ-RP WORD WAR OVER LINK TO ZAMBO BLAST

Manila, Feb. 12, 2003 (Malaya) -- The Iraqi Embassy yesterday strongly condemned an intelligence report linking Husham Zed Husain, second secretary, to the bombing in Malagutay, Zamboanga City, in October last year and dared Philippine authorities to support their allegations.

The embassy, in a statement, assured the Philippines that none of its staff is in communication with the Abu Sayyaf as the Iraqi government does not deal with separatist movements.

But sources said the Philippines is seeking to convince Baghdad to recall Husain to avert his declaration as persona non grata.

In an interview after a meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Blas Ople, Iraqi chargé d'affaires Samir Bolus appealed to Philippine authorities not to harass embassy officials and staff.

"We are not doing anything that is wrong and we don't expect any kind of harassment and we will function helpfully with the DFA," he said.

Bolus said bilateral ties between Manila and Baghdad remain good despite the allegations against Husain.

He also said both sides are cooperating to address the issue.

"We (Ople and him) both share the same views and we are working to improve bilateral relations. So we have no problems. We are working together," Bolus said.

Sources said Manila will likely take the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Malaysia from Feb. 20 to 25 as an opportunity to convince Baghdad to take action against Husain.

The sources said Ople will meet with Iraqi Foreign Minister Naji Sabril during the ministerial meeting prior to the summit to relay the Philippine position.

The sources said declaring Husain persona non grata might lead to serious repercussions.

"This might result in the expulsion of (chargé d'affaires) Grace Escalante from Iraq, and we would lose our eyes and ears. Bilateral ties will suffer. You can't divorce the diplomat from the country," one of the sources said.

National Security Adviser Roilo Golez said "action is being taken" against Husain but declined to elaborate.

He also refused to discuss the intelligence report, saying it is "classified."

He said Manila will consider sharing the report with Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Brunei and Cambodia as part of the information exchange provided under the multilateral agreement on anti-terrorism.

On Monday, Ople summoned Bolus and informed him about the "highly detailed" report from the National Intelligence Coordi-nating Agency on Husain's supposed link to the bomb attack that killed a member of the US Special Forces and three Filipinos in October last year.

Ople said the NICA traced cellular phone calls made by the Abu Sayyaf to Husain im-mediately after the bombing.

This is the second time that an Iraqi diplomat has been implicated in a bombing attack.

Jasim al-Ani, first secretary, was declared persona non grata when he was reportedly monitored speaking with two bombers minutes before a bomb was set to go off at the Thomas Jefferson Center in Makati on Jan. 19, 1991.

The bomb went off but there was no damage reported. One of the bombers was killed with his body parts scattered across the street.

Two days later, then Foreign Affairs Secretary Raul Manglapus declared Al-Ani persona non grata because there was strong evidence linking him to the blast.

Ali-Ani was asked to leave the country within 72 hours.

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the intelligence community will continue to investigate and monitor Husain's activities.

He said the results of the investigation will be made public and be shared with the international community.

"Allegations of diplomatic involvement in terrorism constitute a grave matter anywhere in the world and should be dealt with vigilance and immediacy," he said.

He, however, said there is no reason to forward the results of the investigation to the US gov-ernment.

"This is something between the Philippines and Iraq," he said.

Sen. Manuel Villar, chairman of the Senate committee on foreign relations, said it is imperative for the government to validate the intelligence report.

"We do not want to be victims of misinformation again. The intelligence community already faltered before. That is why we should exercise prudence in making bold statements or serious accusations," Villar said.

Villar observed that the government seemed to be picking on Iraq in the past few days such as floating reports on the supposed closure of the Embassy in Baghdad, the reported funding by the Iraqi Embassy of anti-US protests and alleged pull-out of the security detail from the Iraqi Embassy.

"It is unfair to float false stories against any individual or institution. I do not understand why the government is so bold in picking on Iraq, but they cower in fear when foreign governments maltreat our people," he said.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

© Copyright, 2003  by PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE
All rights reserved


PHILIPPINE HEADLINE NEWS ONLINE [PHNO] WEBSITE