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Travel & Tourism to Peru may be in danger after possible kidnapping


Case resolved after eTN Readers made urgent appeal to find missing cousin in Peru

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By eTN and wire input | Feb 26, 2013

Case resolved after eTN Readers made urgent appeal to find missing cousin in Peru
Jamie Neal, 27, (L) and Garrett Hand, 25, pictured on a Facebook appeal

BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. The American couple that had gone missing in Peru has been found safe, Peru's Ministry of Tourism and Commerce told CNN Tuesday.

(eTN) - ETurboNews received an urgent appeal from Richard M. Swanson Jr., a reader from California. He wrote: "I enjoy your eTurboNews and was wondering if you thought we could add something about my cousin and his girlfriend who have been missing in Peru for over a month now."

ETN readers in Peru wanting to share information about this possible kidnapping may contact eTurboNews in English or Spanish.

Tourism officials in Peru are nervous about a possible kidnapping of American tourists in their country.

"Tourism is an incredibly sensitive topic, and they would be damaging a big source of earnings at the national level," the Mayor of Cusco told reporters after a group of mayors met with President Ollanta Humala.

This was on February 16 after the US issued a statement from a US Embassy official that said credible evidence exists of a threat from a Peruvian terrorist group, and following suit, issued a warning to US citizens.

A report in the Peruvian newspaper, La Republica, said leaders of the cocaine-financed Shining Path outlaw band discussed kidnapping foreigners, principally Americans, in intercepted communications. Tens of thousands of Americans visit Peru each year.

The official agreed to discuss the report only if not quoted by name due to the political sensitivity of the warning.

The Maoist-inspired Shining Path was all but decimated by the time the US State Department designated it as a foreign terrorist organization in 1997. Its remnants now number about 500 and have become an increasingly potent and disciplined fighting force, funding itself by taxing drug traffickers in Peru's coca-growing heartland.

Shining Path's radius of action has in recent years expanded to include the northern jungle Convencion region of Cuzco state, where La Republica said the conversations were intercepted and where the Camisea natural gas project is located.

In that region, a rugged 100 miles north of Machu Picchu, Shining Path fighters last April briefly kidnapped 36 construction workers near a Camisea site. All were released unharmed but the rebels killed 8 soldiers and police officers that were sent to rescue them. The group has killed more than 80 Peruvian soldiers since 2008, mostly in ambushes.

The Convencion district also includes Choquequirao, another set of Incan ruins increasingly popular with tourists but reachable only on foot or horseback.

US law enforcement and the Pentagon have been assisting Peru in pursuing Shining Path.

In the meantime a California couple and cousin of eTN reader Richard M. Swanson, Jr. have gone missing while on a cycling trip in a remote area of Peru that is prone to kidnapping attempts.

Families of the couple, Garrett Hand and Jamie Neal, said they last heard from them on January 25, a day before they were expected to arrive in Lima.

Friends and relatives fear they may have been abducted.

As reported by ABC News, family member, Francine Fitzgerald, mother of Garrett Hand, made an impassioned plea, stating, "We want them to come home safely." It's been nearly a month since she's heard from her son who was on a bicycle tour of Peru with his girlfriend. Family and friends of Garrett Hand and Jaime Neal are desperate for information and have heard nothing from Peru.

Jamie Neal is on leave from the Pedaler bike shop in El Sobrante where she worked. In just a few days, her fellow employees have printed flyers and raised US$4,000 for information leading to the couple's safe return. That's all their families want, too. "We're just very concerned, because we haven't heard from Garrett, and we want him to come home, now," Fitzgerald told ABC7 news on Monday.

Her home is in Concord, but her thoughts are more than 4,000 miles away with her son Garrett and Jamie. "Somebody knows where they are, and we want them to come home safely, and anything anybody can do to help us to get them home safely we appreciate," she said.

Garrett's parents and sisters have created a war room in their home to keep track of all tips and information. The last Facebook postings by the couple came on January 25 and they had posted many carefree photos in the days leading up to their disappearance. Initially, their families were not too concerned, thinking the couple was just out of Wi-Fi or Internet range, but then the US State Department issued an ominous warning.

There is no indication or information that the couple has been kidnapped, but that is certainly a concern. Garrett has traveled all over the world according to his family. They say they're confident he has the wherewithal to get through whatever might be happening, but their concern is growing by the day.

The threat of kidnappings in Peru has prompted two East Bay high schools in California to cancel student trips.

The Bentley School in Lafayette has hosted trips to Peru in the past, but two weeks ago they pulled the plug just the day before students were to fly out.

Thirty students had to give up the chance to learn the culture and do community service instead.

"I was kind of relieved that we didn't end up going with a situation like that," student Griffin Dey said, "Like, I was bummed we couldn't go on the trip, but I'm glad it was cancelled for that reason."

The Head-Royce School in Oakland also canceled a trip to Peru for 25 students.

"I was relieved," parent Martha Chavarin-Romero said, "I was disappointed, of course, but I was relieved to know that the school was acting proactively."



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