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Travel Advisory

In Albania, Rising Chaos and Risk

March 23, 1997|EDWARD WRIGHT | Wright is a former assistant foreign editor at The Times. His column appears monthly


Albania: U.S. military helicopters flew in to rescue hundreds of Americans from Albania's capital, Tirana. With the city's airport closed by gunfire, Italy, Germany and other countries worked to evacuate their citizens as well. At least 100 people were believed killed in more than a month of unrest that began when a series of pyramid schemes collapsed and hundreds of thousands of people in Europe's poorest country lost their savings. City after city fell under mob rule, and gunmen roamed the streets armed with weapons looted from military arsenals. The U.S. State Department on March 12 added Albania to its list of countries considered dangerous to American travelers. At press time Wednesday, life in the capital was beginning to return to normal, but a nationwide state of emergency and curfew remained in effect.


China: Concerned about the potential threat to tourists after the terrorist bombing of a bus in Beijing earlier this month, Beijing police urged hotel managers to be alert to suspicious people and unattended packages. The Chinese news media said the bombing in western Beijing--rare in the normally quiet capital--injured 10 people, but unofficial sources told Reuters news service that at least two were killed and about 30 wounded. Responsibility for the attack was claimed by Muslim separatists from China's Xinjiang region. Police were stationed at many bus stops in Beijing and taxi drivers were asked not to give rides to "suspicious-looking people from Xinjiang," Reuters reported.

South America

Peru and Colombia: Armed bandits boarded a cruise boat on the Amazon River, terrorized passengers and stole about $20,000 in cash, jewelry and cameras, the business publication Travel Weekly reported. The 14-passenger Rio Amazonis, which cruises between Peru and Colombia, was on the fourth night of a six-night trip in January when the pirates pulled up alongside in a speedboat around midnight. After roughing up the crew and robbing passengers, they stole food, fuel and the ship's radio. Among the passengers were tourists from Oakland and Burlington, Vt. The tour operator, Amazon Tours and Cruises, runs five river vessels ranging in size from eight to 21 cabins. Following the attack, Peruvian army soldiers were hired to work as on-board security guards, the tour operator said.

Colombia: In an unusual move, the Colombian government urged other countries this month to warn their citizens about the dangers of traveling in the Andean nation. The warning followed news of the murders of four foreigners, one an American, in leftist guerrilla-held areas in the north or northwest. Earlier this month, an Austrian and a German tourist, kidnapped a month earlier, were found slain, and the body of a Russian cycling tourist, who disappeared a year ago, was found in a shallow grave.

The American, Alabama-based geologist Frank Pescatore, was found shot to death near a town in northern Colombia late last month, 11 weeks after he was seized by gunmen. Two other Americans are missing after being kidnapped by suspected guerrillas in recent weeks. Colombia has the world's highest rate of kidnappings. The U.S. State Department has long warned Americans against traveling there. At least 45 foreigners were abducted in Colombia last year.


Hot spots: Following the murder of two locally hired U.S. Embassy guards and the kidnapping of several employees of international organizations, the State Department has added Tajikistan to its list of places where Americans are warned not to travel. Citing "the potential for military and civil unrest," the department has also added Zaire to the list and allowed U.S. Embassy dependents to leave the country. Albania (see above) is the third new entry this month. Others on the travel-warning list are Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burundi, Central African Republic, Colombia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan.

Briefly . . .

Honduras: A German tourist sailing from Honduras to Panama was killed by attackers who raped his wife and stole their boat, police said. The couple were en route last month from the port of Trujillo, on the north coast, when bad weather forced them to stop at a small offshore island, where the attack occurred.

Reunion: The French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean was the scene of rioting this month as thousands of civil servants and students protested government plans to cut officials' pay. Cars were set afire and shops were looted in St.-Denis, the capital, and the international airport was shut down for six hours.

Trinidad: A volcanic eruption buried 10 houses in a village 60 miles south of Port of Spain last month. Warning of the possibility of new eruptions, the government announced plans to evacuate residents from the area.

Yemen: An American oil engineer was released by mountain tribes men late last month after 16 days in captivity. Days later, five German tourists were seized by abductors who demanded a $7 million ransom. Yemeni tribes in disputes with the government or oil companies have kidnapped scores of foreigners in recent years to use as bargaining chips. So far, all have been released unharmed, but there is no word on the German captives.

The U.S. State Department offers recorded travel warnings and advisories at (202) 647-5225; the fax line is (202) 647-3000.

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