Australians warned vs gangs that prey on tourists

By Veronica Uy
INQUIRER.net

Posted date: January 03, 2008

MANILA, Philippines — The Australian government has warned its citizens against “criminal gangs that drug and rob or assault unsuspecting tourists…in Manila, including the Makati central business district,” a new travel advisory from Down Under said Thursday.“As in many other big cities, street crime is of concern particularly in crowded shopping malls and other public places. Pick-pocketing, bag-snatching, and a range of scams, including in relation to credit cards and automated teller machines, are common,” said the advisory issued January 3 by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

The advisory, available online at http://www.smartraveller.cgov.au/zw-cgi/view/Advice/Philippines, maintained the warning level of “high degree of caution” due to “high threat of terrorist attack.”

“If you do decide to travel to the Philippines, you should exercise extreme vigilance,” the advisory reminded its citizens.

It advised principally Australian tourists to get cabs from the hotels than hailing one on the streets.

“Avoid travel on public buses and jeepneys where possible. Armed hold-ups occur and in some cases have led to fatalities,” the advisory said.

Australia also warned against insurgents who extorted money from business groups, including mining companies, in the rural areas. It cited the attack by a “large group of armed men” on an Australian-owned mining operation in Camarines Norte on Oct. 3, 2007 and then again on January 1 this year at the “Australian-controlled Tampakan mine site in South Cotabato.”

“Valuables were seized and property destroyed” in the first incident while “significant property destruction” occurred in the second, the advisory said.

Another new element in the advisory is Australia’s warning against possible criminal attacks following the Christmas celebrations.

“Attacks could occur in the lead up to and following the Christmas celebrations,” it said.

Repeating its previous warning, Australia warned against possible terrorist attacks and kidnappings, and advised its citizens against visiting places frequented by foreigners like places of worship, restaurants, markets, shopping malls, public transport, hotels, guest houses, bars, clubs, and the like.

“Terrorists have kidnapped tourists from these areas,” the advisory said.

It again warned against going to Mindanao, particularly Davao City, Carmen, Isulan, Kidapawan, Koronadal City, Cagayan de Oro City, General Santos City, Cotabato City, South Cotabato, Makilala, Maganoy, Tacurong, and Pagadian.

“If you are in these areas, you should consider leaving,” it said.

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