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US tourists divert to Uganda

Staff Writer

THE American Travel Bureau (ATB) is set to divert over 3 000 American tourists who had been visiting Zimbabwe yearly to Uganda on the back of a deteriorating political situation and the possibil

ity of violence ahead of the March 31 parliamentary election.

The ATB announcement comes as a direct response to the US State Department’s warning against travelling to Zimbabwe on Wednesday.

ATB chief executive officer, John W Smith, revealed his organisation’s intention to divert the tourists during a cocktail party in Kampala. The ATB, which incorporates America’s 10 leading tour operators, was in Uganda at the invitation of President Yoweri Museveni.

The tour operators inspected Uganda’s major tourist sites, including the source of the Nile at Jinja, Sezibwa Falls in Mukono, Tororo Rock and Queen Elizabeth National Park.

In its advisory warning, the US cited Zimbabwe’s history of violence before elections. It warned American citizens that they risked harm if they travel to Zimbabwe on the eve of the March 31 parliamentary poll.

The US government urged its citizens living in Zimbabwe to take appropriate steps to ensure their personal safety and to avoid political rallies and demonstrations.

“Reports of violent incidents are running well below levels prior to previous elections, but the possibility of increased violence before elections, including parliamentary elections scheduled for March 2005, cannot be excluded,” the State Department said in its statement.

The US warned its citizens to avoid farms occupied by “so-called war veterans” who are mostly young government supporters “acting with impunity outside the law”.

The statement said the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe also made travel to the country risky.

Meanwhile, human rights watchdog, Amnesty International, charged in a report on Wednesday that a climate of intimidation and harassment had made free participation in the election impossible.

President Robert Mugabe’s government has rejected criticism of its human rights record, calling it part of a propaganda campaign waged by Western powers opposed to its land reform programme.

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