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TRAVEL ADVISORY

Rebel Kidnappings in Philippines Prompt Warning

September 24, 2000|EDWARD WRIGHT

Asia

Philippines and Malaysia: Muslim rebels in the southern Philippines freed some foreign hostages but captured four more--including an American--and the State Department once again emphasized the dangers of traveling in the region. The Abu Sayyaf rebels released two Finns, a German and a Frenchman, the last of 10 foreign tourists seized at a Malaysian dive resort in April and taken by boat to a remote Philippine island. Two French television journalists escaped last week during a government assault on the rebels. But at press time Wednesday, the rebels still held more than a dozen Filipinos, three Malaysians captured from a resort island and an American from Oakland who was abducted after he visited a rebel camp late last month. In an alert effective until Jan. 10, the State Department warns against travel to the south and west of the Philippine island of Mindanao as well as the islands of Basilan, Sulu, Tawitawi and Jolo in the extreme southwest.

Worldwide

Hostage-taking, whether by criminals or terrorists, has become a lucrative business around the world, according to a report by the British Broadcasting Corp. Kidnapping for ransom has increased by 70% in the last eight years and reached record levels last year. In some countries, foreigners may be the targets. The 10 countries and regions where kidnappings are most active: Colombia, Mexico, the former Soviet Union, Brazil, Nigeria, Philippines, India, Ecuador, Venezuela and South Africa.

Africa

South Africa: A couple from New York were robbed of their car and belongings by a gang as the couple left Kruger National Park earlier this month. The couple's vehicle was forced off the road by a truck carrying six armed men.

A few days earlier, a car bomb exploded outside a crowded cafe near the University of Cape Town. No injuries were reported, but the incident was the latest in a series of attacks on restaurants, police stations and gay bars that have left three people dead and more than 100 injured. Police suspect a Muslim vigilante group.

Briefly . . .

China: The Chinese government has deported three American evangelists after detaining them in a roundup of underground Protestants in central China, according to a Hong Kong-based human rights group. Arrested along with the three Taiwan-born missionaries were 70 Chinese who will likely be charged with belonging to a cult. China forbids organized religious activities outside state-sanctioned churches. . . . Georgia: Three minibuses carrying 30 German tourists on an excursion in the mountains of western Georgia came under fire, apparently from bandits, last month. Police accompanying the caravan returned fire, repelling the attackers, and no one was hurt. . . . Austria: The European Union lifted diplomatic sanctions against Austria, imposed in February after the Austrian leadership admitted a far-right party into the government. The United States said it would continue to limit some diplomatic contacts. The sanctions apparently had little effect, with foreign tourists, many of them American, showing up in ever larger numbers this year. . . . Indonesia: A car bomb exploded in a garage underneath Jakarta's stock exchange 11 days ago, killing 15 people. It was the latest in a series of unexplained bombings apparently aimed at destabilizing the Indonesian government. The State Department advises Americans to "exercise extreme caution" in Indonesia and urges anybody in West Timor--where three U.N. workers were massacred by militiamen earlier this month--to leave immediately. . . . Sri Lanka: A suicide bomber set off an explosion outside a hospital in central Colombo earlier this month, killing himself and six bystanders. Citing the possibility of violence leading up to and through parliamentary elections scheduled for Oct. 10, the State Department advises Americans in Sri Lanka to be mindful of personal security, to avoid political rallies and to strictly observe any curfew regulations.

Hot spots: State Department travel warnings are posted for Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burundi, Central African Republic, Colombia, Congo (formerly Zaire), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Serbia and Montenegro, Sierra Leone, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Sudan, Tajikistan and Yemen.

The U.S. State Department offers recorded travel warnings and advisories at (202) 647-5225; the fax line is (202) 647-3000. Internet address is http://travel.state.gov.

*

Edward Wright is a former assistant foreign editor at The Times. His column appears monthly.

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