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Americans warned of ‘terrorist activities’ in Philippines

First Posted 14:15:00 11/03/2010

MANILA, Philippines?The US State Department has issued a new travel advisory warning Americans about the "risks of terrorist activity" in the Philippines.

The department?s Bureau of Consular Affairs said "terrorist attacks could be indiscriminate and could occur not only in the southern islands but also in other areas, including Manila."

"Targeted sites may be public gathering places that are frequented by expatriates and foreign travelers, including American citizens," it said.

According to the advisory, "such sites could include, but are not limited to, airports, shopping malls, conference centers and other public venues."

The travel warning superceded a similar advisory issued by the US government on April 2 to "reflect continuing threats due to terrorist and insurgent activities" in the country.

In both advisories, the State Department reminded US nationals that "terrorism can occur anywhere."

In its November 2 travel warning, the US government asked Americans to "exercise extreme caution if traveling in the central and western portions of Mindanao, as well as in the islands of the Sulu Archipelago."

"Regional terrorist groups have carried out bombings resulting in injuries and death. An October 10 bus bombing in Mindanao claimed 10 lives. An investigation is underway to determine whether this was a terrorist act. Since August 2008, sporadic clashes have occurred between lawless groups and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in the Mindanao provinces of North Cotabato, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, and Maguindanao, as well as the Sulu Archipelago," it said.

US citizens were also warned about kidnap-for-ransom gangs, which the State Department said were "active throughout the Philippines and have targeted foreigners."

"US government employees must seek special permission for travel to Mindanao or the Sulu Archipelago. Travelers to these areas should remain vigilant and avoid congregating in public areas. Some foreigners who reside or visit Mindanao hire their own security," said the advisory.

Travelers should also be aware of the "heightened police activity and significant military presence" in the provinces of Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat, as well as Cotabato City.

"While the elections have passed, the state of emergency (in these areas) is still in effect," the travel warning added.

Aside from the Philippines, 30 other countries are covered by separate US travel advisories.

They include Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Algeria, Central African Republic, Sudan, Colombia, Pakistan, Israel, and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, among others.

Meanwhile, Rebecca Thompson, spokesperson of the US Embassy in Manila, told the Inquirer on Wednesday that personnel of the US Agency for International Development "will continue to work in Mindanao" despite the travel advisory.

Early this year, USAID resumed some of its development projects in Maguindanao after a month-long suspension.

Field work on USAID projects in that province was interrupted after the November 23, 2009 massacre of 57 people.

USAID is overseeing Washington's social development projects in Maguindanao and the rest of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, as well as the Zamboanga Peninsula and Socskargen, short for South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, and Gen. Santos City.

In a related development, Lynn Plata, media officer of the British Embassy, said they "have not changed the level of our travel advice, which is always under constant review."

In its current travel advisory, UK nationals are advised against "all travel to Mindanao, including the Sulu Archipelago, and against all but essential travel to the remainder of the Southern Philippines."

Foreign office spokesman J. Eduardo Malaya said the Philippine government "respects the prerogative of foreign embassies to issue travel advisories as a service to their nationals."

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