MANILA, JULY 6, 2007 (STAR) The Philippines has intensified offensives against terror groups to keep them from plotting attacks during an annual foreign ministers’ forum in Manila, officials said yesterday.

The July 22 to Aug. 2 meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the ASEAN Regional Forum, Asia’s largest security grouping, will bring together more than 20 Asian and Western foreign ministers and hundreds of personnel.

Keeping them secure has been a top government concern.

Among the invited VIPs are UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, although there are indications he may not be able to attend. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Russia, the European Union and the US are sending their top diplomats, according to a meeting schedule.

The Philippines has offered to host a meeting of the six-party talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament on the sidelines of the ASEAN conference, but there has been no confirmation, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

A security assessment has pinpointed no specific threat against the high-profile meetings, but troops have intensified intelligence-gathering and offensives against militants who could attempt to disrupt the gatherings to embarrass the government, said acting Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales.

“We’re doing standard security preparations,” Gonzales said. “We’re trying to capture certain people.” He did not elaborate.

Police in the southern region of Mindanao have been ordered to closely monitor al-Qaeda-linked groups like the Abu Sayyaf and Jemaah Islamiyah, but have not monitored any specific plot against the ASEAN meetings, a police intelligence official said on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to talk to reporters.

Security forces were also trying to track down the few remaining members of the Rajah Solaiman Movement, a radical Islamic convert group that has been linked to deadly bomb attacks.

2 Abu Sayyaf killed, 1 captured in Basilan

Two Abu Sayyaf bandits were killed while another was captured during an encounter with government troops in a remote town in Basilan, the military said.

First Marine Brigade commander Col. Ram Alivio identified the slain bandits as Commander Panjang and his alleged deputy Mohammad Ladji.

The two were killed during a heavy encounter with troops from the Marine Battalion Landing Team 8 (MBLT) in the village of Bohe-bessey in Akbar town Thursday morning.

Alivio said troops were able to capture one of the 30 Abu Sayyaf gunmen who fled with several injured following the 20-minute firefight.

The identity of the captured bandit was withheld pending investigation.

“The encounter was part of our effort to rid the Abu Sayyaf down to its roots. This is a continuing effort,” Alivio said.

Alivio said they are now checking if the two slain bandits are included in the most wanted list of the military.

Alivio said the Marines have been deployed in Basilan as part of the effort to locate Italian missionary Giancarlo Bossi who was kidnapped in Zamboanga Sibugay last June 10.

He said there were unconfirmed reports that Bossi’s kidnappers have brought the priest to Basilan to be turned over to the Abu Sayyaf.

Marines spokesman Lt. Col. Ariel Caculitan, however, declined to comment on whether military operations in Basilan formed part of the search and rescue mission for the kidnapped Italian priest.

“We’re just making sure they’re (Abu Sayyaf) always on the run and could not undertake terrorist activities,” Caculitan said.

As this developed, an Italian envoy arrived yesterday for talks with the military on the efforts to secure freedom for Bossi.

“We don’t have any official news regarding the kidnap of Father Bossi,” said Margherita Boniver, a prominent Italian lawmaker and veteran of several humanitarian missions, after arriving in Manila early yesterday. – Roel Pareño, Jaime Laude, John Unson, Ramil Bajo, AP

GMA programs generate 1.1 M jobs in 9 months By Paolo Romero Friday, July 6, 2007

The government has exceeded its target of creating jobs through its microfinance development program, which provided 1.1 million jobs from July 2006 to March 2007 which is 117.1 percent more than the target of 950,000 jobs for the period.

Presidential Management Staff chief Cerge Remonde, who is also Cabinet oversight official for micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) development, announced the job data during a meeting of MSME development stakeholders recently.

People’s Credit and Finance Corp. (PCFC) president Edgar Generoso said that 55.6 percent of the two million microfinance jobs targeted for the six-year period starting 2004 has already been achieved in less than three years.

“Microfinance has graduated from being just a footnote and it is now an industry,” he said.

Small Business Guarantee Fund Corp. president and chief operating officer Benel Lagua reported that the SME sector, through the government’s SME Unified Lending Opportunities for National Growth program, has also generated over 122,000 jobs as of end-April 2007.

Generoso said there are plans to expand the reach of MSME programs through an intensified information drive through text messages, an Internet campaign and media exposure.

The PCFC will launch on July 9 the SMS microfinance texting facility as part of a public awareness campaign to promote entrepreneurship throughout the country.

Remonde bared the plan of Mrs. Arroyo to expand the existing Small and Medium Enterprises Development Council to include the microenterprise sector. He said she will issue an executive order for this purpose.

“The President’s MSME programs continue to post significant gains in the country as they spread nationwide the benefits of entrepreneurship that help swell the economy and improve people’s lives,” Remonde said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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