US warns nationals vs travel to Mindanao, Sulu
In a Jan. 30 update to its travel warning, the Bureau of Consular Affairs urged US citizens to defer non-essential travel to the Sulu archipelago and exercise extreme caution in Mindanao.
"The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of travel to the Philippines, in particular to the Sulu Archipelago and the island of Mindanao. This Travel Warning replaces the Travel Warning dated June 14, 2012, and reflects continuing threats in those areas due to terrorist and insurgent activities," it said.
In Sulu, it cited the "high threat of kidnapping of international travelers and violence linked to insurgency and terrorism there."
On the other hand, it said criminal groups have clashed sporadically with the military in Mindanao, particularly in rural areas.
Terrorist groups have kidnapped international travelers and carried out bombings that have resulted in injuries and deaths in Mindanao, it added.
However, the travel warning also noted negotiations toward a comprehensive peace agreement are ongoing following last October's signing of a framework peace agreement between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.
"In Cotabato City, and in the Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat provinces, the government maintains a state of emergency that compels a greater police presence in those areas," it said.
The State Department also noted that security and safety conditions in urban centers of Davao City, General Santos City, and Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao are "generally more controlled."
"Nevertheless, U.S. Embassy employees must receive special authorization from Embassy security officials to travel to any location in Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago, including these urban centers," it added.
The State Department reiterated its concern about the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against US citizens and interests throughout the world.
It also remided US citizens that "terrorism can occur anywhere."
Also, the State Department encouraged US citizens in the Philippines to enrol with the State Department'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. - VVP, GMA News