MANILA, Philippines (AP) — More than 200 delegates from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will proceed with a meeting in a central Philippine resort province this week despite a foiled attack there by Muslim extremists, officials said Monday.
Acting Interior Secretary Catalino Cuy said that Panglao Island in Bohol province could be considered "the most secure place in the country right now." The two-day ASEAN trade meeting on the island starts Wednesday.
Philippine forces, backed by airstrikes and rocket-firing helicopters, killed four of several extremists from the brutal Abu Sayyaf and other Islamic State group-linked groups who traveled far by boat from their jungle bases in southern Sulu province to stage ransom kidnappings and bombings, security officials said.
"Our objective is zero incident up to the final ASEAN meeting," said Cuy, who oversees security for more than 140 meetings that the Philippines will host as it leads the 10-nation regional bloc this year.
Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Robespierre Bolivar said all foreign delegates to the meeting, which would focus on a free trade agreement between ASEAN and Hong Kong, have confirmed their attendance. ASEAN member states have not raised any concern over the meetings, Cuy said.
At least 52 meetings, including an annual gathering of ASEAN foreign ministers on central Boracay Island in February, have been held without any incident, Cuy said. President Rodrigo Duterte will host nine of his ASEAN counterparts in an annual summit in Manila next week.
Troops and police were hunting down several militants who fled the fighting.