Arusha. The Tanzania Association of Tour Operators (Tato) has played down last weekend's attack on tourists near Lake Natron in Ngorongoro district, Arusha region but called for enhanced security for the visitors.
The association's executive secretary Sirili Akko said since safety and security of the tourists was of paramount importance, the state organs and the general public should be involved in protecting the tourists.
"Tato condemns the incident with the strongest possible terms", he told The Citizen, adding, however that before they were robbed by unknown people the nine visitors from Denmark had not been cleared to take the route.
"We are informed the incident happened not in the normal route", he said, without clarifying.
Reports which reached this newspaper over the weekend had it that the visitors were waylaid and robbed of cash and other valuables at Moroni village near the saline lake north of Ngorongoro highlands.
According to the Arusha Regional Police Commander Charles Mkumbo while heading to the Serengeti National Park in Mara region, the visitors found huge stones at the road which effectively blocked the two vehicles carrying them.
It was at that juncture that, unknown people emerged and robbed them of $ 400 (Sh.900, 000), SA rand 2,000 (Sh.325,000) and Sh. 600,000 and other valuable items. No injuries were reported and they later continued with their journey.
The incident caused a brief scare in the multi-million dollar tour business centred in Arusha but Mr. Sirili insisted; "This one incident should not disturb scheduled tourists from visiting Tanzania".
He showered praise on the villagers who turned up for the rescue of the visitors from possible harm and assisting the police in tracking them down.
"We thank them for showing up at the site and call upon this spirit to continue as safety and security is a role of everyone including Tato members", the official explained.
When contacted yesterday, the acting RPC for Arusha Yusuf Ilembo declined to say if some suspects have been arrested. "Investigations are still on", he said. Unconfirmed reports said some people were arrested on the weekend.
This is the first reported incident for years of robbery of tourists in the Lake Natron route which has become popular in recent years for visitors heading to Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Conservation Area (NCA).
Besides the highly alkaline lake which is the breeding area for flamingoes, other attractions include the Oldonyo Lengai active volcano and the Engaruka ruins at the eastern slopes of the Ngorongoro highlands.
Tourism stakeholders in Arusha who spoke to The Citizen have cautioned, however, that the incident was 'minor' and should not cause any scare to the safety of visitors to the northern tourist circuit which attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually.
He said during the laying down of a foundation stone for the proposed police station at Salle village, that wananchi would be fully involved in security matters.
He cited Salle, Mdito and Masusu villages as among the areas which had been subjected to bandit attacks in the past, stressing that the state organs would act hard against the criminals.
The villages are also used as transit for tourists and researchers heading to the Serengeti NP and NCA.
The police station at Salle village is being constructed will cost about Sh. 300 million and will be completed within a year.
Although no fatal cases of attacks on the tourists and other people has been reported in recent years, Mr. Taka said there had been incidents of them being robbed during ambushes.
Related story: Nine tourists robbed of valuables in Arusha