Ambush Risk in Laos Highlands

Wright is a former assistant foreign editor at The Times. His column appears monthly

Asia

Laos: A prominent French businessman and a number of his Laotian employees were killed in an ambush on a road leading to Laos' ancient capital, a major tourist site, the Associated Press reported. Claude Vincent, 56, was the director of a French tour agency and owner of a restaurant in Viangchan (Vientiane), the capital. Unidentified gunmen killed him and at least two of his employees, then ransacked their van on the road between the northern town of Kasi and the old capital, Luang Prabang. The area is home to ethnic tribes, and attacks along the route are believed to be common, although few are reported in the Laotian press. The U.S. State Department says that major tourist destinations "generally are safe" but adds, "Overland travel in some areas, particularly in the highlands, runs the risk of ambush by insurgents or bandits."

Europe

Scandinavia: Violence among biker gangs in Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland has turned deadly. Earlier this month, at least two people were killed and 17 injured when a shoulder-fired antitank missile was fired into a Hell's Angels party in Copenhagen. Four days earlier, an explosion of unknown origin nearly destroyed a Hell's Angels clubhouse in Stockholm, injuring four people in nearby buildings. The attacks--and several other incidents in recent months--appeared to be part of a Nordic turf war between the Hell's Angels and their rival, the Bandidos. Although the incidents pose no direct threat to foreigners, travelers should be aware of the potential for violence around members of either gang.

Central America

El Salvador: Foreigners were involved in two violent incidents in recent months. In September, the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador reported that an expatriate American businessman was killed during a robbery. The American, who was not publicly identified, was shot twice as he left an office in the capital, then robbed of money, jewelry and his car. In August, a German diplomat was injured when his vehicle was attacked by armed robbers in the town of El Congo. The State Department warns that violent crime is prevalent throughout El Salvador and that Americans are often victims. "Many Salvadorans are armed, and shootouts are not infrequent."

Africa

South Africa: A German tourist died after being stabbed twice in the back by four robbers as he and his wife were sightseeing in Pretoria, Reuters news service reported. German businessmen based in South Africa have called on the government to crack down on violent crime or risk losing future investment. Meanwhile, South Africa's National Crime Information Center said that about 10 cars are hijacked each day in Johannesburg.

Finally, a Briton and two Swiss were touring the Soweto township area outside Johannesburg when they got out of their car in an affluent neighborhood and were robbed. Knocking on the nearest door, they were taken in and offered tea by the homeowner, who then drove them to the police station. There, they learned that their benefactor was former first lady Winnie Mandela.

Briefly . . .

Jamaica: Police are investigating the murder of an American who was stabbed to death in Montego Bay. The body of Michael Holtmyer, 38, of Fort Myers, Fla., was found on a footpath a day after he had arrived.

Corsica: Separatists seeking independence from France have picked up the pace of violence in recent weeks, exploding about two dozen bombs at post offices, customs houses and other government sites. There were no injuries.

Mexico: Five British tourists were robbed by members of the Revolutionary People's Army (EPR), according to a Spanish news service. The tourists were driving on the border between Chiapas and Tabasco states when they were stopped by six masked and uniformed gunmen, who took about $500 from them.

Hot spots: State Department travel warnings are in effect for Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Burundi, Central African Republic, Colombia, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Sudan.

The U.S. State Department offers recorded travel warnings and advisories at (202) 647-5225; the fax line is (202) 647-3000.

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