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(GMA News) US Issues New Travel Warning vs Terrorist Activities in PHL

The United States on Wednesday (Manila time) issued a new travel warning on the Philippines, citing risks of terrorist activities particularly in the Sulu archipelago and in other areas in Mindanao.

In its new travel warning, the US Department of State said the terrorist attacks could be indiscriminate and could occur in other areas such as Manila.

“Targeted sites may be public gathering places including, but not limited to, airports, shopping malls, conference centers, and other public venues,” the US State Department said.

Travelers should exercise extreme caution if traveling to Mindanao or the Sulu Archipelago as regional terrorist groups have carried out bombings resulting in injuries and death, the travel warning said.

It also noted that sporadic clashes have occurred between lawless groups and the Philippine Armed Forces throughout Mindanao, particularly in rural areas.

US government employees were instructed to “seek special permission to travel to Mindanao or the Sulu Archipelago.”

The US State Department noted the Philippine government had declared a state of emergency on November 24, 2009, for Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces, as well as Cotabato City in Mindanao, because of “election-related violence.”

On that day, at least 57 people, including at least 32 journalists, were killed in the now-infamous Maguindanao massacre. A 58th victim, a photographer, is still missing.

“Although the elections have passed, this state of emergency is still in effect. Travelers should be aware of heightened police activity and significant military presence in these areas. They should carefully research restrictions imposed on travel and follow the instructions of government officials,” the State Department said.

KFR groups

The US advisory also said kidnap-for-ransom (KFR) gangs are active throughout the Philippines and have targeted foreigners.

The advisory said US citizens traveling, living, and working throughout the Philippines are urged to exercise heightened caution in public gathering places.

It added that US citizens should exercise caution when traveling in the vicinity of demonstrations since they can turn confrontational and possibly escalate to violence.

Terrorism, violence

The State Department said it remains concerned about the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against US citizens and interests throughout the world.

It encouraged all US citizens in the Philippines to enroll with the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program or at the US Embassy in Manila.

“By enrolling, you can receive the Embassy’s most recent security and safety updates during your trip. Enrolling also ensures that we can reach you, or your designated emergency points of contact, during an emergency,” it said.

The US Embassy is located at: 1201 Roxas Boulevard, Manila, Philippines, tel. 63-2-301-2000. The American Citizens Services (ACS) section’s fax number is 63-2-301-2017, and you may reach the ACS Section by email at ACSinfoManila@state.gov.

The ACS Section’s website includes consular information and the most recent messages to the US citizen community in the Philippines.

One may also obtain information on security by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, for callers outside the United States and Canada, a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444.

These numbers are available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, Monday through Friday (except US Federal holidays).

Australia ‘eases’ travel alert

Meanwhile, Australia has eased its travel alert for Eastern Mindanao, advising its nationals to “reconsider” their need to travel in provinces there.

In a travel advisory updated Tuesday afternoon, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said this came after a “review” of the advice.

“The level of the advice for eastern Mindanao (including the provinces of Bukidnon, Camiguin, Misamis Oriental, Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur) has been lowered to ‘Reconsider your need to travel,'” it said.

“We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to eastern Mindanao (including the provinces of Bukidnon, Camiguin, Misamis Oriental, Compostela Valley, Davao del Norte, Davao del Sur, Agusan del Norte, Agusan del Sur, Surigao del Norte and Surigao del Sur) due to very high levels of violent crime,” it added.

However, it said the level of the advice for central and western Mindanao (Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga Sibugay, Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte, Cotabato City, North Cotabato, South Cotabato, Saranggani, Misamis Occidental, Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao and the Sulu Archipelago) remains at “Do not travel.”

Australia had warned of a “high risk of terrorist attack, including kidnapping, and the very high levels of violent crime” in those areas.

It added the overall level of advice for the Philippines has not changed.

Australia also maintained its advice to its nationals to exercise a high degree of caution in the Philippines because of the high threat of terrorist attack and the high level of serious crime.

“Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks,” it said.

It also said terrorist attacks could occur anytime and anywhere in the Philippines, including Manila.

“We continue to receive credible reports indicating terrorists are planning attacks against a range of targets in a variety of locations, including places frequented by foreigners. You should avoid places known to be terrorist targets,” it said. — RSJ/VVP, GMA New