For any terrorist group, the logic of threatening tourists is brilliantly simple. Attacking foreign visitors brings world attention to a cause; and scaring away potential visitors can do great damage to a struggling economy. For prospective tourists, the idea of becoming a pawn in a wider political struggle is frightening.
Economic crime (usually straightforward mugging) simply demands greater care in known danger spots. The likelihood of being attacked for political, rather than financial, reasons is harder to address, however. British tourists enjoying the southern coast of Turkey must, if they thought about the conflict at all, have felt a million miles away from a corner of the country claimed as a homeland by the Kurds. But suddenly the resort of Marmaris has joined the list of destinations where the power of the world's biggest industry is being exploited.
The Shining Path, Peru's Maoist guerrilla organisation, was the first to turn tourists into targets when it announced a policy of killing foreign visitors in the Eighties. Two British travellers were murdered by terrorists in the Huallaga Valley in 1990. But to put the threat in perspective, fewer foreign visitors have perished in Peru in the 14 years of conflict than in Florida during the past year.
Economically, the Shining Path has caused havoc. The tourist industry has shrunk to a twentieth of its size before May 1980, when the conflict began. The terrorists aim to shift Peru back to pre-Columbian society, a subsistence economy free of foreigners. A casual glance at the decrepitude which prevails in Peru will show that they have made a pretty effective start - but the tourists are beginning to return.
The tourist office in the capital, Lima, offers travellers a thorough briefing on which areas are safe to visit. Staff provide a map of Peru, on which large chunks of the country are struck out as too dangerous to visit. Tourists are still able to see the most important Inca sites, plus Lake Titicaca and its periphery. The most significant risk is in Lima, where the occasional car bomb kills indiscriminately.
Finding out the degree of danger when you arrive is clearly not as wise as getting the most up-to-date advice as possible before you go. The Foreign Office is less effective in keeping us informed than it might be. The telephone advice line on 071-270 4129 (or 4179) operates only from Monday to Friday 9.30am-4pm. Last Monday morning, the day after Joanna Griffiths died, the line was either permanently engaged or giving out a recorded message saying the office was closed.
After two hours of solid dialling I spoke to a switchboard operator, who said she would pop down the corridor and see if someone had left the phone off the hook, and that I should call back. That did the trick, and I got through five minutes later. But it seems to show a rather haphazard attitude towards the public's access to essential information. A more reliable alternative for people who have Teletext is to consult BBC 2 Ceefax, page 564 onwards.
Three destinations popular with British travellers are at present subject to terrorist threats against tourists: Egypt, Sri Lanka and Turkey.
Last year, 250,000 British people visited Egypt, with few encountering anything nastier than an upset stomach. In February this year, however, Muslim fundamentalists announced they were targeting tourists in a bid to cripple the economy. The empty cruise ships moored in the Nile show how successful they have been. Most attacks have been on clearly identifiable targets, such as tourist buses. It may, therefore, be safer to travel independently, using public transport. The area around Assiut in Upper Egypt should be avoided.
In April, the first attack aimed at the Sri Lankan tourist industry took place when three luxury hotels in the capital, Colombo, were bombed. Responsibility was claimed by a previously unknown group called Eelam Force, rather than the Tamil Tigers who have fought the government over the past decade. Parts of the island are still out of bounds, and it is highly unlikely that the military would let visitors enter a zone of potential or actual fighting.
The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) targets tourists in Istanbul and Mediterranean resort areas as part of its campaign for a separate Kurdish state in the east of Turkey. The Foreign Office advises that 'complete security cannot be guaranteed and further attacks can be expected'; it also recommends caution in resorts and cities, and warns against travelling to the east of the country. A special FO advice line has been set up on 071-839 1010.
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