- The Washington Times - Monday, January 27, 2003

Most Americans traveling abroad are aware of the numerous warnings their government has issued about the risks of terrorism, but few are likely to be familiar with the world of dangers that Washington believes they face from other, less nefarious sources.
While the State Department's alerts draw attention by addressing threats posed by Osama bin Laden and other extremists, annual safety and security reports compiled by U.S. embassies around the globe languish in relative obscurity.
Yet it is in these reports, aimed primarily at the business community, that the ills American travelers are most likely to face overseas are catalogued.
Indeed, the earth is a planet fraught with peril that is not for the faint of heart, according to the yearly reports for 2002 that have been streaming into Washington from far-flung diplomatic outposts during the past month.
Including overly aggressive Maltese nightclub bouncers, and confrontational Mongolian drunks and Albanians bent on revenge, the reports detail a litany of problems that could leave even the most hardened adventurer cold.
And if drug-deprived rioters in Djibouti or Burkinabe bandits are not enough to dissuade visitors, natural disasters killer tsunamis in the Pacific or fiery volcanic eruptions in the Andes may put a damper on travel plans.
Man-made woes can compound the risk.
Consider Armenia.
Already living in a region prone to massive earthquakes and treacherous landslides, Armenians also live under constant fear of worse calamities, the U.S. Embassy in Yerevan points out.
"In addition to natural disaster, there is the threat of chemical or nuclear emergency from various aging Soviet industrial complexes and a nuclear-power plant located 25 miles west of the capital," it says in its 2002 safety report.
In Japan, the high incidence of seismic activity has led the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to give the following advice: "Becoming familiar with immediate action to avoid falling objects during a tremor is important."
Although the reports carefully note the physical shortcomings of a country's geography, they pay far more attention to the vagaries of human behavior in various nations, much of it criminal.
In Cambodia, "military weapons are sometimes used to settle personal disputes, injuring or killing innocent persons," the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh reports.
The same could be true in Georgia, where U.S. diplomats posted to Tbilisi felt compelled to write that "although much less frequent than several years ago, it is not unusual to hear gunfire late at night."
"This may or may not be celebratory in nature," the report adds disapprovingly.
Woe betide the uninformed visitor to Albania, where one could fall afoul of any number of apparently hundreds of generational feuds that often end in killings, the U.S. Embassy in Tirana says.
"Albania is known as the country of revenge," embassy staffers wrote of their host nation. "There is a code of honor followed by some primarily in the North that results in blood killings related to families and clans."
One sentence later, however, the illusion of relative safety in the capital, or in Albania's south, west and east is shattered as the report adds: "On occasion, these blood feuds or revenge killings occur in Tirana and other cities outside of the north."
Employing language reminiscent of a 19th-century British tourist guide, the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou warns of the dangers of driving in Burkina Faso.
"Care must be taken when driving along the major roads to watch for highwaymen," it says.
But summoning authorities for help can be difficult in many parts of the world, according to the reports.
In Laos, police "tend to be … unresponsive to criminal activity," the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane says without a hint of irony.
In the West African country of Niger, it may be impossible to even identify a police officer because "basic operating materials like fuel for vehicles, radios, uniforms and minimal equipment (handcuffs, batons, and even badges) are often hard to come by or nonexistent," the report from Niamey says.
Diplomats at the U.S. embassy in Ulan Bator suggest that the American visitor to Mongolia, an isolated, largely nomadic place with abominable weather, be on the alert for power outages during the country's notoriously frigid winter.
"If the coal-powered electric plants fail, everything will freeze within hours," they say, warning of the limited possibilities for evacuation.
"There are few flights and limited train service connecting Ulan Bator to the outside world and no place to drive for help," the report continues.
But worse than being stranded in a Mongolian blizzard might be a night out on the town, it says, urging that visitors use extreme caution when venturing out after dark.
"Many Mongolians drink heavily and can be confrontational," the report says.
The traveler in search of alcoholic refreshment in Malta has to take extra precautions, says the U.S. Embassy there, which reports the dangers posed by "heavy-handed" bouncers in the Paceville nightclub district.
The embassy says these bouncers have instigated altercations in which run-of-the-mill tourists, as well as burly U.S. naval personnel on shore leave, have been injured.
"The embassy strongly recommends that visitors frequenting these clubs avoid any confrontation with the bouncers," it adds.
Substance abuse or lack thereof can make a trip to Djibouti eventful, says the U.S. Embassy, which warns that political tension is far from the only cause of rioting there.
"Civil unrest could also result if the daily air delivery of khat from neighboring countries were disrupted or delayed for any reason," it says, referring to the soporific drug that many people chew in the tiny Horn of Africa state.


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