HONG KONG (AP) - Beijing authorities have instructed Chinese airlines in Hong Kong to halt ticket sales to nationals of 19 countries, mainly in the Middle East.
China National Aviation Corp., the sole agent of 10 mainland airlines in Hong Kong, told travel agents in an Oct. 3 memo to stop selling tickets to China to holders of certain passports and to refund tickets already bought.
China has tightened controls on Middle Easterners trying to travel to mainland China in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States and the retaliatory strikes on Afghanistan.
The memo, which was obtained by The Associated Press, urged travel agents to comply with rules issued by China's Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Civil Aviation Administration imposing "strict controls" on travelers. It was unclear if the memo had been sent to travel agents in other countries.
A marketing manager at Air China, who identified herself only by the surname Leung, said the carrier's Hong Kong office received instructions from the Beijing headquarters to impose the ban for "safety reasons."
The memo said added that there would not be "a total ban" wording that may have been meant to allow room for diplomats or dignitaries to travel.
A deputy marketing manager of the China National Aviation Corp., who identified herself only by the surname He, refused to answer questions about the memo, saying the matter was "the business of a commercial company" and not the public's concern.
Pakistani diplomats have complained that Beijing appears to have imposed a virtual ban on their nationals trying to visit mainland China. Some Middle Eastern consulates have also said that China has tightened entry requirements.
China's Foreign Ministry has acknowledged that entry rules are changed from time to time, but it disputed contentions this week that any nationalities have been singled out.
China's Civil Aviation Administration and the official spokesmen of three carriers Air China, China Eastern and China Southern denied a ban existed on Middle Eastern air travelers.
"We do not know such a thing," said a CAA official in Beijing, who refused to give his name. The CAA official said, however, that Chinese airlines have canceled flights to Pakistan and Kuwait.
The Chinese memo said tickets should not be issued to holders of the following passports: Afghanistan, Israel, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Kuwait, Sudan, Libya, Algeria and Pakistan. Holders of Palestinian passports were also barred.