US Lifts Kidnap Alert For Machu Picchu

March 7, 2013

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The US State Department has lifted a kidnapping alert for US citizens visiting Peru's Machu Picchu ruins and the surrounding Cusco region after a review of the threat.

Last month the US Embassy restricted official travel to Machu Picchu and said it had information that a criminal group was plotting to kidnap US tourists there.

Though it did not mention a motive for potential kidnappings, the warning was widely interpreted as linked to Peru's renewed attempt to crack down on coca growing in a slew of jungle valleys known as the VRAEM controlled by a remnant band of Maoist Shining Path rebels.

Peruvian officials, including President Ollanta Humala, said at the time they did not think the embassy's February kidnapping alert was credible.

The embassy on Wednesday cautioned citizens to be careful near the VRAEM, which includes part of the Cusco region that is home to Machu Picchu.

"The Embassy continues to strongly recommend that when travelling in areas near the Peruvian "VRAEM"... US citizens heighten their security awareness and implement additional security measures," the embassy said in a statement.

Last year, rebels kidnapped 36 Peruvian natural gas workers in La Convencion, Cusco, about 100 miles (160 km) from Machu Picchu. The hostages were later released unharmed.

Machu Picchu, an important site during the Incan empire, draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to Peru every year and many Peruvians said they feared the alert would hurt tourism revenues.

Those concerns were sharpened when family members of two Californians travelling in Cusco reported the couple - Garrett Hand and Jamie Neal - as missing after losing contact with them for a few weeks.

Their families, aware of the kidnapping threat, asked the embassy and the media to help find them, and demanded proof they were alive even after Peruvian police said they had been spotted in the Peruvian Amazon.

The tourism ministry eventually tracked down the couple, said to be having a "fantastic time" on a river journey in the jungle, and put them in touch with their families.