Five Europeans killed in attack in remote Ethiopia
Wed Jan 18, 2012 6:36pm GMT
* Gunmen struck in early hours of Tuesday
* Eleven of group arrive in capital, whisked away
* Ethiopia says abducted foreigners may be in Eritrea
* Eritrea denounces accusations as "pathetic" (Adds new Ethiopian govt
By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA, Jan 18 (Reuters) - Gunmen killed five European tourists and
kidnapped two further foreigners and two Ethiopians in northern Ethiopia's
remote Afar region where separatist rebels have operated, the government
said on Wednesday.
Ethiopian government spokesman Bereket Simon said two Germans, two
Hungarians and an Austrian died in the dawn attack on Tuesday in an arid
area prone to banditry.
On Wednesday afternoon, 11 tired-looking survivors still dressed in trekking
clothing arrived by plane in the capital, Addis Ababa.
Several hid their faces from the awaiting television cameras. One was pushed
through the airport in a wheelchair, his knees and arms bruised, before the
group was taken away in diplomatic vehicles.
Ethiopia blamed its neighbour and arch-foe Eritrea for the attack, saying it
had trained and armed the gunmen. Ethiopia also blamed an Afar rebel
movement for kidnapping five Westerners in the region in 2007.
The incident risked raising tensions in the volatile region, as Prime
Minister Meles Zenawi's government threatened "whatever action necessary to
stop the activities of the Eritrean regime once and for all" if foreign
powers failed to step in.
"The Ethiopian government's tolerance towards a regime that openly supports
terrorist activity is inevitably wearing thinner by the day," Ethiopia's
Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
It is the first time Addis Ababa has warned of action since March last year
when it accused Asmara of trying to destabilise Ethiopia by backing rebels,
and also supporting Islamist militants in Somalia.
Eritrea's envoy to the African Union, Girma Asmerom, rejected Ethiopia's
latest allegation. "This is pathetic, an absolute lie," he told Reuters.
There was confusion over who had been hurt in the attack, and their
nationalities. Addis Ababa initially said a Hungarian and an Italian had
been wounded, but Rome later denied one of its citizens had been hurt.
Hungarian authorities confirmed one of their nationals was wounded.
Belgium's Foreign Ministry spokesman said a Belgian and a citizen of another
country who lived in Brussels had been injured and had been taken to a
hospital in Mekele, northeastern Ethiopia's biggest city.
A VERITABLE LAND OF DEATH
Afar has some of the earth's harshest terrains. The highest average annual
temperature ever recorded was in Afar's Danakil Depression at 34.4 Celsius
(94 degrees Fahrenheit) with levels regularly exceeding 50 celsius in the
Afar province's rock-strewn hills give way to vast deserts below sea level,
and dry river-beds and acacia thorn-trees dot the landscape. Banditry is
widespread in a region once described by the late British explorer Wilfred
Thesiger as a "veritable land of death".
Foreigners who venture out into the area usually include researchers, aid
workers and about 500 adventure tourists each year visiting geographical
wonders such as the Danakil Depression, with ancient salt mines and
"The attack occurred at 5 a.m. on Tuesday, in which Eritrean-trained groups
also kidnapped four. Two of them are foreigners, one is a driver and the
other a policeman," Bereket said.
Ethiopian state media said the victims were part of a 27-member party that
included U.S. and Australian citizens.
A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said Berlin was working with its embassy
in Addis Ababa to clarify what had happened.
Ethiopia said the four hostages might have been taken across the frontier
In 2007, gunmen seized five Europeans and eight local people in Afar. The
Europeans were handed to the Eritrean authorities less than two weeks later
and Britain said Asmara had helped to secure their release. The eight locals
were freed a few weeks later.
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a 1998-2000 border war that killed 70,000
people, and the dispute still festers.
Addis Ababa routinely accuses Asmara of supporting Ethiopian separatist
groups, while Eritrea says the accusations are lies designed to tarnish its
"It has become a trend for Ethiopia to fabricate sensational news against
Eritrea whenever the summit is nearing," Girma told Reuters, referring to an
African Union summit which begins in Addis Ababa next week.
Ethiopia accused Eritrea of plotting to bomb targets and disrupt an AU
meeting in January last year. (Additional reporting by Richard Lough in
Nairobi, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, Krisztina Than in Budapest and Ben Deighton
in Brussels; writing by David Clarke and Richard Lough; editing by David
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Thu Jan 19 2012 - 09:25:38 EST