Israel and the West Bank: Following an attack by an off-duty Israeli soldier who wounded five Palestinians in the West Bank city of Hebron on New Year's Day, the U.S. State Department warned Americans in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip that terrorist attacks were more likely in the following two weeks. The warning expired in mid-January, but the State Department continues to advise against travel to the West Bank, except for daylight visits to Bethlehem and Jericho, the Dead Sea via Highway 1 and the Jordan Valley via Route 90. Although not specifically targeted, U.S. citizens have been killed in past incidents in the region, the statement noted. Americans were advised to be cautious in public places and to avoid public transit and bus stops.
Brazil: Carnival is coming. The week that precedes Ash Wednesday--Feb. 12 this year--is Rio de Janeiro's biggest annual blowout, and Americans planning to go should be aware that along with the street dancing is the possibility of crime and violence, some of it directed at tourists. Last Carnival, Brazilian officials reported that 58 people were killed in Rio de Janeiro state and 219 in Sa~o Paulo state, the combined total an increase of 123 over the 1995 event. The 80,000 tourists who attended last year's Carnival in Rio constituted a record, but tourism officials expressed concern then that Americans and Germans--who spend heavily--were staying away because of publicity about crime. Crime against tourists in Carnival '96 was lower than in previous years, the tourism officials said. The U.S. Consulate in Rio reported only one serious incident involving an American, in which the man reported being shaken down by police for $400.
Peru: The mass hostage-taking at the Japanese ambassador's home in Lima, in which Tupac Amaru guerrillas have been holding dozens of diplomats and prominent business people, has put a dent in Peru's ambitious tourism program, according to the Bloomberg News Service. Travelers began canceling flights to Peru just after the Dec. 17 seizure of the ambassador's home, and Japan took the serious step of officially advising its citizens not to travel there. Peru has worked hard to attract visitors after tourism suffered between 1982 and 1993. Last year, Andes scenery and Incan ruins helped bring in 650,000 tourists, a 24% increase over 1995. The State Department says, "Terrorist attacks have not been directed against traditional tourist destinations," and one Peruvian police official notes that no tourist has been killed or kidnapped in years.
Tibet: A U.S.-educated Tibetan visiting his homeland has been sentenced to 18 years in prison for making an amateur videotape, raising questions about the risk of such activity to any traveler in the Chinese-controlled region. Ngawang Choephel, a musicologist studying at Middlebury College on a Fulbright scholarship, visited Tibet with a group of American tourists in the summer of 1995. The Chinese arrested him after he videotaped traditional Tibetan songs and dances, accusing him of spying for the exiled Dalai Lama. He was held incommunicado until last Dec. 26, when his sentencing was announced. The International Campaign for Tibet, a human rights monitoring group in Washington, warned travelers in Tibet to be careful about the use of video cameras and about giving photos of the Dalai Lama as gifts to Tibetans.
Briefly . . .
Worldwide: Responding to a series of letter bombs sent to the offices of an Arab newspaper in New York, Washington, London and Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, the State Department said there is no indication of an increased threat to Americans overseas. But travelers are urged to be wary of unexpected packages and report any suspicious mail to local authorities as well as the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
India: Four Western hostages, including Donald Hutchings of Spokane, Wash., who were captured by Kashmiri separatists in India's Jammu and Kashmir state last July, were reportedly killed by their captors five months later. The account in an Indian newspaper, attributed to a captured militant, has not been confirmed by the Indian government.
Britain: Security forces were on the alert nationwide due to fears of a new bombing campaign by the Irish Republican Army, the Reuters news service reported last month. In London, security was increased at key sites such as the financial district and the Canary Wharf complex.
El Salvador: Devastated by civil war and subsequent unrest, El Salvador is trying to revive tourism, Times foreign correspondent Juanita Darling reports. Balancing the drawbacks of inexperienced police, street crime and a paucity of tourist-class resorts are dramatic volcanoes, 193 miles of coastline and some of the best surf in the Americas.
Hot spots: State Department travel warnings are in effect for Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burundi, Central African Republic, Colombia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan.
The U.S. State Department offers recorded travel warnings and advisories at (202) 647-5225; the fax line is (202) 647-3000.