Monday, January 23, 2012

Ethiopian rebel group: kidnapped tourists are in good health

(Monday 23 Jan 2012, )--An Ethiopian rebel group says it has kidnapped two German tourists and two Ethiopians, adding that they are safe, in good health and could be released unharmed. The four were part of a group of 27 tourists attacked on Tuesday in the remote region of Afar in Ethiopia. Two Germans, two Hungarians and an Austrian were killed in the ambush.

"We can … confirm that those German nationals who were taken together with the Ethiopian soldiers are safe and in good health," the rebel Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (Arduf) said in a statement dated 21 January.

"We can ensure that their peaceful release will be granted through peaceful negotiation … through the Afar elders in the region." The group did not disclose where it was holding the four and gave no indication of a ransom or any other conditions for the hostages' release. Arduf says it is fighting for the unification of areas occupied by the Afars, whose homeland straddles Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti. The rebel movement was blamed for the kidnapping of five westerners in 2007.

Addis Ababa has accused neighbouring Eritrea of staging Tuesday's attack, and said it believed the four were being held there. Asmara has dismissed the charge.

An Ethiopian government official said the attack was carried out by an armed group of between 30 and 40 men. Arduf also denied an Eritrean role in the attack and said Ethiopian troops had killed the tourists during a battle. "Our forces killed 16 Ethiopian soldiers and wounded a dozen of them … when the Ethiopian forces opened fire on our patrolling unit," it said.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a 1998-2000 border war that killed 70,000 people, and the dispute still festers. Foreigners who enter the area usually include researchers, aid workers and about 500 adventure tourists each year, many of whom visit a desert basin called the Danakil Depression, home to ancient salt mines and volcanoes.

Afar is an arid stretch in Ethiopia's north-east that is home to some of the world's harshest landscape with high temperatures regularly exceeding 50C (122F) in the summer.

In 2007, gunmen there seized five Europeans and eight Ethiopians. The Europeans were handed to the Eritrean authorities less than two weeks later and Britain said Asmara had helped secure their release. The Ethiopians were freed nearly two months later.

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