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Tuesday, March 2, 1999 Published at 16:55 GMT


Holiday danger hotspots

Holiday tours off the beaten track are becoming more popular

In the past three months, six Britons are known to have been murdered by hostage-takers.

The BBC's James Robbins: "Companies are moving fast to close operations in the area"
That figure, the Foreign Office has confirmed, will rise when the identities of hostages killed by Hutu rebels in Uganda are released.

Over the past couple of years, even more Britons abroad have endured periods of imprisonment at the hands of kidnappers bent on reaping large ransoms - or bringing their political agenda to the world stage.

Foreign Office advice for travellers

But the increasing availability of specialist holidays - and the growing opportunities springing up for businesses in emerging economies - continue to attract British people to unstable and volatile areas of the world.

The BBC's Ian Pannell: "It's a fine line between being cautious and over-protective"
It is feared that this will mean kidnapping and its tragic consequences will become an increasing problem for Britons abroad.

Currently, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishes advice on which countries it understands to be unsafe for travel.

The list of areas where travel of any kind is warned against included on Tuesday:

  • Afghanistan

  • Algeria

  • Burundi

  • Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Congo

  • Chechen Republic

  • Eritrea

  • Iraq

  • Jammu and Kashmir in India

  • Somalia

  • Western Sahara

  • Yemen

    Travel to the border areas of Uganda, where eight tourists have been killed after being seized in a game park, is also strongly advised against.

    The risk of kidnapping is just one of a number of factors - which include civil unrest, natural disaster and disease - that the FO takes into consideration when issuing travel advice.

    Their "people on the ground" report on any actual or potential problems, which are then formulated into advice for travellers.

    [ image: Two British hostages were among those taken in Kashmir in 1995.]
    Two British hostages were among those taken in Kashmir in 1995.
    Critics of the system, however, say briefings are not clear enough.

    Speaking on Tuesday morning, as news of the deaths in Uganda came through, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs and Defence spokesman Menzies Campbell said: "This will not be the last of these incidents.

    "While our sympathies today are obviously with those who have been kidnapped and their relations, there is obviously an urgent need for Foreign Office advice in these matters to be expressed in words of one syllable, so that no one can be of any doubt about the risks involved.

    "As the opportunities for travel to obscure and potentially dangerous parts of the world increase, travel agents and individuals themselves have also got to exercise discretion and responsibility."

    On the other hand, said an FO spokesman, the system has also been criticised for being overcautious.

    He continued: "We don't have a crystal ball. We do, however, keep our advice as up-to-date as possible.

    "The Uganda advice has been available from 19 February, which says travel to the borders is not recommended.

    "But it is impossible to keep up-to-date daily. In Uganda there are rebel groups operating all over the country, there are bombings happening in Kampala. The situation changes all the time.

    "What we would say is that before people travel, they should consult the High Commission. They are the people on the ground who will have the most immediate information.

    "Other sources of information could also include the hotel you are going to stay at, and local authorities such as the police."

    Specialist travel operators also tend to keep well-abreast of developments in their destination areas, says the FO.

    But if holiday-makers ultimately have the choice of whether to visit a country, the business community would argue that travelling to countries with emerging economies is often a crucial part of corporate development.

    [ image: Camilla Carr and Jon James were released by their captors in Chechnya]
    Camilla Carr and Jon James were released by their captors in Chechnya
    Mara McNeil Sinclair is spokeswoman for Control Risks Group - a consultancy which amongst other things offers advice to companies affected by kidnapping.

    She says that the very nature of investing in, for example, the oil business, necessitates travel to countries which wouldn't normally figure as a tourist destination.

    CRG also publishes blacklists of destinations, and offers advice for businessmen and women travelling to certain areas.

    But, says Ms McNeil Sinclair, the information CRG provides for paying clients is much more detailed than that given by the FO.

    She said: "Foreign Office travel advice has to be more generic. Our information is a detailed breakdown of things that will affect travellers from the corporate world.

    "We either have our own people gathering information, or we have a network of contacts including people like journalists and lawyers, who provide us with regular updates."

    Travel advice from the Foreign Office is also available in the UK on Ceefax, BBC Two, page 470

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