State Dept. Issues Warning on Cambodia; Operators Cancel Tours

WASHINGTON -- The State Department issued a travel warning and tour operators canceled departures to Cambodia following civil unrest and violence in the streets of the capital city, Phnom Penh.

A spokeswoman said the State Department is recommending that "Americans don't travel there" and advising those who are in the country "to stay indoors."

The country's airport was closed and tour operators said communication with Cambodia was difficult.

Boulder, Colo.-based Asia Transpacific Journeys said it had a tour group in a Phnom Penh hotel and was working with the department to arrange their transport out.

Marilyn Staff, the operator's vice president, said, "They're safe and they're fine and they're being quite well cared for."

Ken Fish, president of New York-based Absolute Asia, said, "There is no way that I would encourage anybody traveling this week to do anything other than cancel or postpone their trip."

For the first time in seven years, Fish had to cancel departures for six clients, offering alternative packages to Vietnam and Thailand.

Violence erupted when the country's second prime minister attempted to seize control of the government while the first prime minister was out of the country. The coup resulted in gunfire on the streets and looting.

It was the second major incident in recent weeks.

In late June, Cambodia's deposed dictator, Pol Pot, after spending some 18 years on the lam, was captured by members of his own Khmer Rouge guerrilla army, who apparently plan to use him as a bargaining chip to procure amnesty from the country's government.

Pol Pot is wanted by the government for killing more than 1 million people from 1975 to 1979 in what has been called Cambodia's holocaust.

With the coup now apparently over, Fish anticipated Cambodia's political problems would calm down in a few days.

"If people are going next week, I'm telling them to wait and see for 48 to 72 hours," Fish said.

Orient Flexi-Pax Tours in New York canceled its July and August departures, but managing director Benny Kokia was optimistic about fall and winter peak season.

"We will wait and see," Kokia said. "It is still a good destination for Americans."

ATJ's Staff agreed, but she is hedging her bet in case Cambodia's hot political situation doesn't cool off by then.

"We're forming contingency plans and alternate itineraries," she said.

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