May 292013

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ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines—The United States Embassy on Wednesday warned US citizens against traveling to the Zamboanga Peninsula, saying it had moved its personnel already in the area to a secure location amid a “credible” kidnap-for-ransom threat against foreigners.

The emergency message was posted on the embassy website Wednesday, the same day that US Ambassador Harry Thomas was in Zamboanga City to launch three major five-year programs of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

“The embassy advises all American citizens residing in or planning to travel to the Zamboanga area to reevaluate their personal safety situation and consider postponing travel to this area at this time,” it said.

But there was no mention of any threat during the US envoy’s visit here on Wednesday.

Mayor Celso Lobregat, who had breakfast with Thomas, said the ambassador did not say anything about the US Embassy warning.

“Nothing was mentioned about the advisory,” Lobregat said.

Senior Supt. Edwin de Ocampo, city police chief, was also surprised by the advisory.

“Their ambassador was just here,” De Ocampo said.

Thomas, however, canceled his scheduled trips to the military’s Western Mindanao Command headquarters here and to Jolo, Sulu.

The ambassador, who alternated between limping and sitting on a wheelchair, said he suffered a “slip while dancing.” He left for Manila at noon.

In Zamboanga City, he visited the Ateneo de Zamboanga and the Garden Orchid Hotel.

The embassy advisory did not identify the group behind the kidnap-for-ransom threat.

It said all US government personnel already in Zamboanga have moved to a secure area while those planning to travel have been directed to defer their trips.

The embassy said the warning will expire on June 12.

The US state department has a standing warning on travel to Mindanao, advising US citizens to “exercise extreme caution” if planning to visit southern Philippines due to crime and terrorism.

Thomas was in Zamboanga City to launch three separate USAID projects promoting good governance and accountability, improved health services and youth development.

The projects had been designed based on “many years of experience in Mindanao, taking into account the best practices and lessons learned,” Thomas said.

“It was guided by the findings of the assessment conducted by the US Embassy with Mindanao Working Group. They traveled to a number of places and held discussions,” he said.

Thomas said the projects, whose cost was not stated, were an affirmation “of our commitment to peace and unity in Mindanao.”

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Tags: Diplomacy , Global Nation , Harry Thomas , Philippines , Travel advisory , US , Zamboanga Peninsula

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