US renews travel warning vs southern Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – The United States on Friday, May 22, said it renewed its travel warning against the southern Philippines, particularly the Sulu archipelago and other parts of the Mindanao island group, "due to terrorist and insurgent activities."

"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," the US State Department said in a statement publicized by the US embassy on Friday.

The US State Department said it issued the new travel warning on Wednesday, May 20.

This replaces its travel warning dated November 20, 2014.

In issuing this travel warning, the US cited "a history of kidnappings and attempted kidnappings of foreigners in the Eastern Sabah province of Malaysia and in the southern Sulu Sea area." (READ: Abu Sayyaf kidnaps restaurant manager, customer in Sabah)

It attributed these incidents to "terrorist or insurgent groups based in the Sulu archipelago.

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The US then advised its 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."

Sulu, one of the most beautiful tourist spots in the Philippines, suffers an image problem because of terror threats. (READ: Risk and relaxation: What it's like to tour Sulu)

In its travel warning, the US added its citizens "should also continue to exercise extreme caution if traveling to certain regions and cities of the island of Mindanao."

The US explained that separatist and terrorist groups "continue to conduct bombings, kidnappings, and attacks against civilians, political leaders, and Philippine security forces."

It pointed out that that the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF), a Muslim separatist group, remains active in Cotabato City and the provinces of Maguindanao, North Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat.

The BIFF is a breakaway group of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the rebel group engaged in a peace process with the Philippine government to end a 4-decade secessionist movement. (READ: 45% of Filipinos prefer peace talks over war with MILF–