Sat, Mar 20, 2004 - Page 4 News List

Emergency-response mechanism activated

INSECURITY The military remained on the same level of alert after the assassination bid, while the National Security Bureau went to ground over its presidential security

By Brian Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER , WITH CNA

The military's emergency-response mechanism was activated yesterday but it did not raise its alert level after the shooting of Presi-dent Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) and Vice President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮), the Ministry of National Defense (MND) said.

"The armed forces are already on alert during the election period. But the alert levels have not been raised because of the shootings of the president and vice president," a senior official with the military spokesman's office of the Ministry of National Defense said.

"An emergency-response mechanism has been activated for the incident. It will not affect the original plans of the military to send soldiers back in batches to their hometowns to cast votes on Saturday," the official said.

All commanding officers were to remain at their posts to keep abreast of any situation starting from 5pm yesterday and the high-alert status will be maintained until 8am today, according to ministry officials.

The ministry convened an emer-gency meeting after the shooting. Ministry officials said that all department chiefs and ranking military officials took part in the meeting and that the results would be announced later.

The shooting was seen as more of a shock to the National Security Bureau (NSB), which is responsible for the security of government leaders, than to the defense ministry. The bureau declined yesterday to comment on the shooting, leaving it up to the Presidential Office to comment.

But the Presidential Office did not touch upon security issues in its explanation of the attack.

The shooting is sure to raise concerns about the security guards that the bureau provides for the president and vice president as well as security measures for the two leaders.

A marine corps master sergeant, who declined to be identified, said the bodyguards of the president and vice president were not as good as they are supposed to be. The bodyguards are largely military officers, with the rest recruited from the police.

"They are not alert enough to emergency situations. With a small team of special operations forces, I could easily neutralize all these bodyguards," the sergeant said.

"The National Security Bureau should be more careful in its selection of bodyguards for the president or vice president," he said.

An army officer voiced similar concerns.

"It is incredible that the president and vice president were shot at the same time without their bodyguards discovering any un-usual signs or suspect elements," the officer said.

"Judging from evidence available from television footage and accounts of the incident by the Presidential Office, the bullets were fired from a handgun at close range," he said.

"One of the bullets penetrated through the window of the jeep which carried Chen and Lu. It was believed to be the one that hit Chen's stomach," he said.

"A man who could approach the president and fire a gun at him without being discovered might be using a modified gun which did not look like a gun at all. Or he could have opened fire from inside his pocket," the officer said.

"Whatever the situation might be, the bodyguards and security network surrounding the president and vice president have very serious problems, which should be identified and addressed as soon as possible," he said.

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