Radio Free Europe, Czech Rep.
Dec 30 2004

Asia: Tourists From CIS Among Those Missing, Killed In Tsunamis
By Antoine Blua


With more than 100,000 people reported dead so far as a result of the
South Asian tsunami disaster, governments and relief agencies are
rushing to deliver humanitarian aid to millions of survivors. The
region is a popular holiday destination for tourists from around the
world, including the countries in the Commonwealth of Independent
States (CIS). Thousands of holiday makers are reported either dead or
missing, including nearly 50 Russian and Kazakh tourists. Citizens
from other CIS states were also traveling in the disaster zone.


Prague, 30 December 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A government plane airlifted
home the first group of Russian tourists from Sri Lanka yesterday.

Stanislav, who was among the 21 tourists evacuated, described to
Reuters what he saw.

"Of course, it was terrifying," Stanislav said. "We didn't know where
to go. We wanted to hide as high above the ground as possible because
we didn't know how big the wave was going to be."

The Russian tourists sought assistance from the Russian Embassy in
the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, where they received food and
clothing. They complained that they felt let down by tour operators.
No one required medical assistance.

At least two Russian tourists -- a Moscow woman and her 6-year-old
son -- were killed in Thailand when the tsunami struck the country's
southern island of Phuket.

A plane dispatched today is due to start evacuating Russian tourists
from Thailand. The Russian Embassy in Bangkok has registered almost
600 Russians as "safe and sound." More than 40 Russians are still
unaccounted for, however.

Some Russian tourists, such as Natalya, had just arrived in Sri Lanka
when the tsunami hit.

"We had just arrived [in Colombo] when it all happened," Natalya
said. "So we did not even have our holiday started there. And we are
grateful to the [Russian] Emergency Ministry. We just flew in and
out."

In Belarus, authorities say 41 citizens were in the region when
disaster struck, but no deaths have been reported.

Belarusian businessman Ihar Makalovich explained how his brother, who
was visiting Thailand, escaped the tsunami.

"He and his girlfriend went up to the hills to take pictures at that
moment. This is what saved them. Their hotel was destroyed
completely," Makalovich said.

Some 75 Kazakh tourists were evacuated from Thailand earlier this
week.

Lada Li returned to Kazakhstan from southern Thailand after the
tsunami struck.

"It was really horrible, so horrible that the water rose above the
second floor, breaking windows and sweeping people away," Li said.

Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry said yesterday that five Kazakh
nationals, including two children, remain in hospital on Phuket.
Three other Kazakh citizens remain missing.

Azerbaijan's ambassador to India, Tamerlan Karaev, said he is
optimistic about the fate of 17 Azerbaijani tourists believed to have
been traveling in South Asia.

"Fortunately, we haven't received any bad news so far about their
fates," Karaev said.

Armenian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamlet Gasparian said he has no
specific information but does not rule out that some Armenians may
have been traveling in the disaster zone.

"We called the Thai Consulate in Yerevan, and they said no visas were
issued to Armenians prior to the disaster," Gasparian said. "And the
[Armenian] Embassy in India has no data about whether there were any
Armenians in the disaster zones. As for the Armenians living in the
region, we don't have any information. But it is possible that there
were some Armenians who flew to these countries from Moscow."Some
travel agencies continue to send tourists to resorts in the region
that were unaffected by the tsunamis.

Many survivors of the tsunami lack proper food and medical help, and
also face the threat of disease from the lack of clean drinking water
and poor sanitation. Indian authorities have also warned that high
waves could strike southern coastal areas again.

Foreign governments are advising their citizens not to travel to the
region.

Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Mukhtar Karibai spoke with RFE/RL
in Astana.

"As a result of the natural disaster that took place in Southeast
Asian countries, there is a high threat of communicable diseases in
that area," Karibai said. "In addition to that, some foreign weather
forecast services report the possibility of a recurrence of such
natural disasters as earthquakes. Taking into consideration all of
the above, the Kazakh Foreign Ministry advises Kazakh citizens not to
travel to this area temporarily, either for business or for private
trips."

However, some travel agencies continue to send tourists to resorts in
the region that were unaffected by the tsunamis. Many tourists from
the CIS risk losing the money they have already paid for their
holidays if they don't complete their trips.

"The situation at those resorts doesn't always correspond to what you
see on television," said Irina Tyurina, a spokeswoman for Russia's
Association of Travel Agencies. "In fact, there are nice inland
hotels. There is a warning [about travel to the region] from
epidemiologists, from the Foreign Ministry, and the Federal Tourism
Agency. And Sri Lanka's Embassy is asking [Russia] to suspend flights
to their country. And the airport in Colombo is asking [Russia] not
to send any planes there. And Phuket [in Thailand] is asking for
tourists not to be sent there but [instead] to Pattaya and other
provinces. We can't forbid people to go there. It is their right. Our
border is open."

Tyurina said a charter flight yesterday to Phuket was full, and that
no flights to the Maldives have yet been canceled.

Officials in Russia's Far Eastern Kamchatka region say about 180
tourists left the peninsula for Thailand yesterday.