US warns citizens vs travel to parts of Mindanao

By ABS-CBNnews.com

MANILA – The United States has issued a warning to its citizens against travelling to the southern Philippines due to the continuing threats of terrorist and insurgent activities.

“The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to the Philippines, in particular to the Sulu Archipelago, certain regions and cities of the island of Mindanao, and the southern Sulu Sea area,” the US State Department said in its latest travel warning.

It said Americans should avoid going to the Sulu archipelago due to what it calls the high threat of violence and of kidnapping of international travelers.

“U.S. citizens should continue to exercise extreme caution if considering travel in the southern Sulu Sea region from the southern tip of Palawan, along the coast of Sabah, Malaysia and the islands of the Sulu Archipelago, up to Zamboanga City, Mindanao,” it added, noting that foreigners have been abducted in the Eastern Sabah province of Malaysia and in the southern Sulu Sea area by terrorist or insurgent groups based in the Sulu archipelago.

The US State Department reminded its citizens that separatist and terrorist groups continue to conduct bombings, kidnappings and attacks against civilians, political leaders, and Philippine security forces in certain regions and cities of Mindanao.

It cited in particular the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), which remains active in the Cotabato City, Maguindanao, North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat.

“There have been no reports of U.S. citizens in Mindanao targeted specifically for their nationality; however, general threats to U.S. citizens and other foreigners throughout Mindanao remain a concern,” it said.

While noting that no untoward incident has happened involving US government officials who travel to Mindanao for official business, the US Embassy has imposed a strict restriction on all but the most essential travel to the area. Embassy employees must also receive special authorization from Embassy security officials to travel to any location in Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago.

The US State Department also urged its citizens traveling to or residing in the Philippines to enroll in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), which gives the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the nearest US consulate to contact in case of an emergency.

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