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Australia helps Manila setup system to stop bombs

Written by: Staff

MANILA, May 10 (Reuters) Australian experts today began helping the Philippines beef up its controls against the possible entry of explosives and biological viruses into Manila's ports.

Australia and the Philippines have been strengthening ties to prevent terrorist attacks and are close to signing a security pact allowing Australian troops to hold war games and military training in one of Southeast Asia's poorest nations.

Pablo Kang, the deputy head of mission of Australia's embassy in Manila, said his government was taking steps to prevent militants' access to nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and sharing best practices to watch movement of explosives which could be used to make bombs.

''We are trying to enforce tighter export control regimes to help countries develop their own systems so that terrorists' use and access to weapons of mass destruction is cut down,'' Kang told Reuters, citing efforts by al Qaeda to acquire nuclear bombs.

''There are a lot of materials that could be used to make weapons of mass destruction, so we'll make sure that we have the right export control regimes. If these materials fall into the wrong hands, we'll have a much more dangerous world.'' Hosted by the Australian government, about 50 officials from Philippine trade, agriculture, security and law enforcement agencies, such as the coast guard, customs and immigration were attending a three-day workshop on export control in Manila.

Florencio Fianza, a retired police general and special envoy on transnational crime, said Australia was sharing experiences and best practices in screening the entry of potential weapons of mass destruction in the country's port.

''We really have to harden our government, our systems and our regulations to prevent, control and stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction,'' he said, focusing on ''dual-purpose'' items that could be used for either making bombs or industrial products.

The Philippines has listed about 4,000 chemical elements and compounds that could be used for making bombs as well as equipment and materials, such as carbon fibres and dry freeze.

''The dry freeze equipment for making instant coffee could be easily used to preserve bacteria for a major biological attack,'' he said, adding Australia would be helping Manila set up an early warning mechanism to handle sensitive materials and equipment.

Kang said Canberra and Manila were working to expand defence and security cooperation, including efforts on counter terrorism and non-proliferation issues.

Yesterday, Avelino Cruz, Manila's defence secretary, told Reuters his office was negotiating a status of forces agreement with Canberra to allow thousands of Australian soldiers to take part in annual war games in the Philippines.

''It's not a basing agreement,'' said Kang. ''It provides for increased training and exchanges between our two militaries. It does not allow Australian soldiers to do anything without the approval or permission of the Philippine government.'' REUTERS SY KN1510

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