U.S. warns against travel to Sulu, Marawi

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 12) — The U.S. State Department issued a Level 2 travel advisory calling for "increased caution" in the southern Philippines on Wednesday.

It warned its citizens not to travel to Marawi City due to "terrorism and unrest," as well as the Sulu archipelago and southern Sulu Sea for the same reasons, on top of crime.

The State Department advisory also advised American tourists and nationals to reconsider travel to other areas of Mindanao.

"Terrorist and armed groups continue plotting possible kidnappings, bombings, and other attacks in the Philippines. Terrorist and armed groups may attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist locations, markets/shopping malls, and local government facilities," the advisory read.

It also enumerated reminders in case of travel to the Philippines:

  • Monitor local media for news events;
  • Avoid demonstrations;
  • Sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program to get updates and be easier to contact;
  • Follow the U.S. State Department on Facebook and Twitter; and
  • Prepare a contingency plan for emergencies.

The State Department also prepared a travel checklist with guidelines for different types of travelers, including the disabled, students, and pilgrims among others.

According to the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines, there are an estimated 300,000 American citizens present in the country at any given time. The U.S. is also one of the Philippines' top tourist markets, accounting for over 400,000 visitors between January to May this year.

The advisory said the U.S. government has "limited ability to provide emergency services" to Americans in Mindanao due to a need for special authorization.

It warned of kidnapping for ransom, particularly in the Sulu islands and Sulu Sea. The region is notorious for the presence of the Abu Sayyaf Group, which has been blacklisted by the State Department as a terrorist organization.

Marawi City is recovering from a five-month siege involving a government clash with another jihadist group, the Maute.

Although armed conflict is not new in the southern island, the Marawi crisis prompted the controversial declaration of martial law across Mindanao, which is expected to last until the end of 2018.