Five days before President Clinton and 17 other world leaders meet in the Philippines, police discovered a pipe bomb, hand grenades and a timing device in two of the nation’s most sensitive places: Manila airport and the chief site for the leaders’ trade summit.
The discovery of the devices Wednesday overshadowed meetings of lower-level officials in advance of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
At one session, the United States failed to win full endorsement for a proposal to abolish tariffs on computers and other information technology products.
Police at the Manila airport found a travel bag in the arrival area that contained several grenades and a timing device, airport security guard Mutalib Abduladjid said. Another grenade was found inside the airport at a hotel transportation desk.
Earlier in the day, a bomb was discovered by a pay phone a few hundred feet from the main gate of Subic Bay Free Port, a former U.S. naval base west of Manila where summit meetings will be held.
The head of Subic said the bomb was part of a drill few people were told about - including himself. It was conducted by the Philippine Presidential Security Group to test security preparations, and the bomb did not have a blasting cap, Richard Gordon said.
However, air force Capt. Ruben Carandang, who is assigned to the Presidential Security Group at Subic, said he was unaware of a bomb drill.
“We don’t conduct bomb drills because it will scare people,” he said.
While none of the explosives went off, the incidents raised concerns about terrorism and safety precautions for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings in the capital and at the former base, now an industrial and tourist center.
Philippine authorities have assembled a 26,000-member security force to protect Clinton, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, Chinese President Jiang Zemin and the other leaders.
Officials tried to minimize the discoveries, saying they show security preparations are working.
Still, the incidents diverted attention from the daylong talks on the U.S. proposal, which calls for zero tariffs on computers and other information technology products all over the world by 2000.
Japan strongly backed the American proposal, but others in the trade group, which includes countries from Canada to Chile and Australia to Korea, weren’t as effusive.
Taiwan Economic Affairs Minister Wang Chi-kang said his government would like to see some items removed from the proposal, including manufacturing and testing machinery for semiconductors.
Malaysian Trade Minister Rafidah Aziz was even more negative. Asked if Asia-Pacific members are heading for an agreement, she said: “Definitely not.”
The summit also will provide a setting for a meeting between Clinton and his Chinese counterpart. The two have not exchanged visits to each other’s capitals because of disputes over trade and human rights.