American nationals in the Philippines were warned this week against traveling to Sulu and some parts of Mindanao due to the “high threat of kidnapping” and violence linked to insurgency and terrorism there.
The US State Department’s travel warning updated May 20 covered the Sulu archipelago, certain regions and cities of Mindanao, and the southern Sulu Sea area. “US citizens should continue to defer non-essential travel to the Sulu Archipelago, due to the high threat of kidnapping of international travelers and violence linked to insurgency and terrorism there,” it said. It cited a “history of kidnappings and attempted kidnappings of foreigners” in the Eastern Sabah area and in the southern Sulu Sea area “by terrorist or insurgent groups based in the Sulu Archipelago.”
Last week, armed men linked to the Abu Sayyaf bandit group seized two people from Sabah and were believed to have brought them to Sulu. The State Department advised US citizens 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.” “US citizens should also continue to exercise extreme caution if traveling to certain regions and cities of the island of Mindanao.
Separatist and terrorist groups continue to conduct bombings, kidnappings and attacks against civilians, political leaders, and Philippine security forces,” it added. BIFF The State Department likewise warned against the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters 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. However, it added there have been no recent reported terrorist threats or incidents within the Davao City or Surigao city limits. “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,” the US State Department said.
The State Department said that while US government officials in the Philippines travel to Mindanao for official business without incident, the US Embassy has imposed a strict restriction on “all but the most essential travel to the area.” “Embassy employees must receive special authorization from Embassy security officials to travel to any location in Mindanao and the Sulu archipelago,” it said. Meanwhile, the State Department strongly recommended that US citizens traveling to or residing in the Philippines participate in the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).