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SAFETY CONSULTANTS OFFER PRECAUTIONS FOR EXECUTIVES

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Companies with operations in Latin America or that have executives who travel in the area should take precautionary steps to guard against kidnappings, security consultants say.

For example, executives driving to and from work should vary their routes, said Christopher T. Marquet, senior managing director at Kroll Associates, a security consultant in New York.

"The kidnappers have to watch you leave home, so if you go in different directions and you vary your times, you make yourself a harder target," he said.

As kidnappers usually prepare their hits, executives living in Latin America also should be wary of surveillance, Mr. Marquet said.

"So if you see a phone company van outside your residence for a couple of days, call up the phone company and check that it's supposed to be there," he said.

Executives traveling to Latin America should ensure they are picked up at the airport by a local associate or have a local arrange for a driver, Mr. Marquet said.

Travelers should also be careful about information they release to other people about their travel plans, said Sean McWeeney, president of Corporate Risk International, a security consulting firm in Fairfax, Va.

Travel plans should be divulged only to people that need to know them; businesspeople should not tell strangers they meet who they work for or their level of seniority in the company; and corporate logos should be removed from any luggage, he said.

When staying in Latin America, executives should use the best hotels, because they usually have the best security; avoid discotheques and nightclubs; and generally keep a low profile and avoid publicity, Mr. McWeeney said.

"A lot of it is just common sense," he said.

Companies that have an employee kidnapped in Latin America should be prepared to wait for brief and intermittent communications from the kidnappers and, particularly in Colombia, they should be prepared to wait several months for a release, Mr. McWeeney said.

"It's not like the movies. The kidnappers are short and direct. They say, 'We have him, we want $5 million and we'll call you back later.' There are no long conversations," he said.

In the majority of kidnappings, the ransom is paid, Mr. McWeeney said.

However, companies should be wary about meeting the first demand of the kidnappers, he said.

"If you pay up straight away, you are signaling that you are a soft target," Mr. McWeeney said.

If a ransom demand of $20 million is made, a company could make an offer of $200,000, which would show it is concerned about the welfare of the victim but at the same time signal to the kidnappers they will have to lower their demand, said A.H. Manson, a director at Kari Corp., a Washington-based K&R insurance brokerage and security consultant.

Also, companies should never make an offer before a demand is made, she said.

Negotiators also should try to ensure the victim is in the hands of the kidnappers and is alive before they make an offer or agree to hand over any money, Ms. Manson said.