Straw to cut travel warnings about terror

The Foreign Office announced yesterday that it is to reduce the number of travel warnings relating to terrorism threats, despite the global increase in terrorist activity.

The Foreign Office announced yesterday that it is to reduce the number of travel warnings relating to terrorism threats, despite the global increase in terrorist activity.

In a written statement to parliament, the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said that from now on people will be warned against travelling only in situations of extreme and imminent danger. Blanket warnings against travel to an area would be used only when the threat to British citizens looked "acute, large-scale and specific". Mr Straw believes that fewer warnings will make the public take those issued more seriously. Too many warnings "did the terrorists' work for them," he said.

The move is likely to be welcomed by foreign governments such as Turkey, Kenya, Indonesia - and even Bali - which had complained that warnings issued after terrorist attacks had seriously damaging its tourist trade. Though the advice relating to all 217 countries listed in Home Office guidance will now be revised, it remains unclear where changes will be made.

Mr Straw said travel advice needed to strike a balance: "Making public safety its prime concern while minimising the disruption which terrorists want to cause," he said. "Advice must inform people of the threat from terrorism. And, when the threat is acute, it will inevitably lead to some disruption in travel in the interests of public safety. But at the same time we must make sure we do not do the terrorists' work for them by causing too much of the disruption which they seek." The changes follow an extensive review of travel advice started by the Foreign Office in December. While attempting to ease fears about the terror threat, the move carries political risks for Mr Straw if a terrorist attack takes place.

The Foreign Office has been criticised in the past for failing to pass on intelligence warnings, most notably after the bombing in Bali in 2002. The Commons intelligence committee was critical of the way that information on Bali had been distributed.

The Foreign Office also incurred criticism last year for not joining the American and Australian governments in advising against travel to Kenya, following intelligence that two Nairobi hotels were being targeted by terrorists. But too many warnings can also cause problems. A Foreign Office warning against "non-essential" travel results in tour operators immediately pulling out, refunding those who have yet to travel and repatriating those already abroad with pro-rata compensation. Independent travellers must also withdraw because their insurers suspend their cover. If it warns of an increased risk of attack but fails to advise against travel, customers cannot alter itineraries without incurring a penalty from their operator or airline.

The only countries to which the Foreign Office advises against all travel are Burundi, Haiti, and Somalia - but it also advises against all but essential travel to Algeria, the Central African Republic, Haiti, Indonesia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. Regions of other countries have similar warnings.

The Foreign Office website ( www.fco. gov.uk/travel) warns that overseas travellers have long faced "a risk, usually small, of being caught up in terrorist attacks" - but describes a "worrying" recent increase in attacks on Western targets.

UNEXPECTED DESTINATIONS ON THE FOREIGN OFFICE TRAVEL ADVICE LIST

Thailand

Warns against the threat to British and other Western targets from terrorism. Advises against all non-essential business travel to the southern provinces of Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla after attacks on security forces in 10 locations in those provinces on 28 April.

Vanuatu

Advises against all non-essential business travel to the outer islands of the country as a result of food shortages caused by tropical cyclone Ivy, which struck Vanuatu in late February. It also warns that violent crime is increasing in the country.

Nepal

The Foreign Office advises against all non-essential business travel to Beni and Bhojpur. It warns there is a high risk of Maoist violence, including bombing and shooting, in public places and tourist areas throughout Nepal. The Maoist rebels have made specific threats against some business interests, including a number of the larger hotels in Kathmandu.

Philippines

High terrorism and kidnapping threat. The Foreign Office advises against all travel to central, southern and western Mindanao and to Basilan, Tawi-Tawi and the Sulu archipelago. Asks people to take care in Manila and at tourist centres throughout the Philippines.

Serbia and Montenegro

Advises against all travel within the Presevo and Bujanovac districts of southern Serbia and against all but essential business travel to Kosovo after the eruption of inter-ethnic conflict in the north on 17 March.

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