Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Ecuador: Update on Kidnapping, Rescue of Briton, Australian in Sucumbios

As a follow-up my posting on the Friday (September 28) kidnapping of Australian Fiona Louise Wilde, 32, from NSW, and Briton Kathryn Sara Cox, 23, in the province of Sucumbios, near the border with Colombia, the two young women were indeed fortunate   that Ecuadorian security forces were so quick to be searching for the women and their captors, as most kidnappings in Colombia are long-term, generally months in duration.

Additionally, at one juncture the captives feared that they might be killed, as the security forces hovered above them in helicopters.

COMMENT: As a powerful lesson-learned in this incident, I strongly appeal to all travelers and tourists, particularly in high-risk areas, to follow the guidance and advice of their embassies and consulates rather than assume that "they know better."

Even Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr in recent days stressed that the foreigners should simply not have been in Sucumbios, a magnet for smugglers, kidnappers, human traffickers and thugs.

In the meantime, both Ecuadorian and Colombian security forces are attempting to apprehend the kidnappers, although their capture is unlikely given the lush environment in which they seized the two women.

Foreign travelers are urged to do the following before traveling abroad:

1. Research the security risks of areas they are planning to visit and assess whether it is a safe area travel in;

2. Go to the US Department of State or their appropriate foreign ministries' website to review travel warnings;

3. Register their trip with foreign affairs agencies before leaving home. In that way, they can be alerted to time-sensitive warnings and also permit such agencies to contact them if there is a family emergency at home;

4. Visit one's respective embassy or consulate in the destination country to seek advice on travel in isolated, rural area where security risks may be much higher than in cities;

5. Obtain good maps of the areas you are planning to visit and identify where hospitals and public safety agencies are located; and

6. Consider obtaining international security training to prepare yourself for the risks you may face.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), which Foreign Minister Carr directs, has emphasized in the past that it has no financial resources to mount searches for Australians who have been abducted or kidnapped and must leave rescue and/or recovery to the host government where such events occur.

Interestingly, DFAT reports that in 2010-11, Australian consular staff conducted 12,899 missing persons inquiries overseas, compared with 9,310 in 2009-10.

As a final note, Australian Warren Rodwell, 53, who was kidnapped on December 5, 2011, in the southern Philippines, in violation of DFAT's travel warning, I might add, is still in the hands of his captors. A word to the wise.