China says Beijing Olympics faces security challenge

The Beijing Olympic Games will face bigger security challenges compared with previous games because of the threat of a terrorist attack, a top Chinese military official said on Sunday.

Ma Xiaotian, deputy chief of general staff of the People's Liberation Army, told Reuters at the sidelines of a security conference in Singapore that the development of "terrorism forces" has led to a greater security challenge for the Beijing games in August.

"Given the situation of the expansion of international terrorism forces who are bent on destroying all things good, I think this year's Beijing Olympic Games will face bigger challenges compared to previous years."

He did not elaborate further.

Beijing is also worried that foreign activists, who disrupted the international leg of the Olympic torch relay, will stage protests inside China over Tibet, Darfur, human rights and other issues during the Games.

The U.S. government issued a travel alert for China in April, citing a higher risk of attacks within the country in the near future, including possibly at the Olympic Games.

"Any large-scale public event such as the upcoming Olympic Games may present an attractive target for terrorists," the State Department said in the alert.

While China has not been targeted by militant groups such as al Qaeda, some worry that China's military has yet to fully appreciate the scale of the security operation, which at Athens in 2004, included the use of NATO early warning aircraft.

By using its own security forces, Beijing believes it can deliver a secure Games for a fraction of the $1.8 billion that Athens paid in 2004.

Some 100,000 policemen and 600,000 volunteers will patrol venues, hotels and streets, while neighbourhoods will be patrolled by citizens wearing red armbands during the Games.

A network of about 300,000 surveillance cameras covers the entire capital.

Previous Olympic Games have been marred by violence. A bomb at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics killed one person and wounded more than 100, while at the 1972 Munich Games, 11 Israelis died in an attack by Palestinian gunmen and a botched rescue attempt.

Copyright © 2008 Reuters

Published in:
Reuters – idINIndia-33848720080601