US issues travel warning on Sulu area
Citing threats from terrorism and kidnapping, the United States issued this week a new travel warning on the Sulu archipelago.
In a Dec. 20 warning, the US State Department advised US citizens to avoid non-essential travel to the Sulu Archipelago and through the southern Sulu Sea.
Also, it advised US nationals to exercise extreme caution when traveling to Mindanao, “due to continued terrorist threats, insurgent activities, and kidnappings.”
Meanwhile, US government personnel are required to obtain special authorization from Embassy security officials before traveling to Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago.
“Terrorist and insurgent groups based in the Sulu Archipelago continue to kidnap foreigners in the Eastern Sabah province of Malaysia and the southern Sulu Sea area. This area stretches 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 said (https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings/philippines-travel-warning.html).
It added separatist and terrorist groups continue to “carry out attacks and kidnappings against civilians, foreigners, political leaders, and Philippine security forces in Mindanao.”
Since January 2016, it said at least 13 separate kidnappings of foreigners have been reported across Mindanao.
In western Mindanao, it said terrorist, insurgent, and criminal gangs regularly conduct kidnappings for ransom.
On the other hand, in central Mindanao, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) remain active in the Cotabato City area, and in the Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat provinces, where the government maintains a state of emergency and a greater police presence, the US said.
“In September 2016, a terrorist group conducted a bombing in Davao City, killing 15 and wounding 69 people. Following the attack, the Philippine government declared a ‘State of National Emergency on Account of Lawless Violence in Mindanao.’ 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.