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Saturday, January 16, 1999 Published at 06:08 GMT

World: Americas

Jamaica's soldiers hit the beaches

Tourism is worth $1bn a year to Jamaica

Soldiers are to be deployed in tourist resorts in Jamaica to try to reduce violent crime and the harassment of visitors.

The Tourism minister, Francis Tulloch, said the move had been recommended by the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association.

He said: "In the past the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association has expressed reservations on the use of the military. However they have now made this recommendation and we will be acting upon it immediately."

Troops could be sent in as early as next week.

Mr Tulloch called the deployment "a giant step against crime in tourist resorts".

Tourism is Jamaica's leading industry, worth about $1bn each year. About 1.5 million people visited the island last year.

Violent reputation

The opposition has condemned the measure as harmful to Jamaica's image. A police spokesman said that crimes involving tourists had fallen dramatically in the past six years. But the island still has a reputation for violent crime.

In December, 14 German tourists on a tour bus were held up and robbed on the way to the Mountain Valley attraction near Montego Bay, the main tourist city on the northwest coast of Jamaica.

In a separate attack, 18 German tourists were robbed on a Jamaican tour bus on 25 November near Port Maria on the north coast.

Military turn-off

But the parliamentary opposition slammed the plan to deploy troops. "People will not want to come to a country that is being patrolled by the military," said opposition spokesman on security Derrick Smith.

He added that the military should only be deployed to deal with civil unrest. Their training might also lead them to mishandle situations.

But police commissioner Francis Forbes said that public perceptions of rising crime against tourists did not match the facts.

He told tourist industry leaders on Thursday that there were less than 200 incidents involving tourists in 1998, down from the 612 crimes against visitors reported in 1992.

The high-profile incidents such as the bus hold-ups distorted the true picture, Mr Forbes said.


Robert Perkins: "Everybody is worried"
But talk show host Robert Perkins told the BBC that everybody in Jamaica was worried about the number of criminal incidents.

He said in deploying troops in tourist areas, it appeared that the government was resorting to a "measure of desperation".

Military police patrols have been operating in various parts of the island for some time, Mr Perkins said, but their presence had not helped diminish levels of crime.

Despite the problems Jamaica had a 3% growth in visitor arrivals during 1998.

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