Britain Sends ‘Crisis Team’ to Ethiopia”

March 4th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

By TOM MALITI | Associated Press Writer

Britain sent a crisis team to Ethiopia on Saturday in an effort to obtain the release of five British embassy workers or their relatives who were kidnapped along with a group of French while on a trip to remote northeastern Ethiopia.

The British Broadcasting Corp., quoting unidentified government sources, said there was a “national security dimension” to the disappearance. It did not elaborate, and neither the British Foreign Office nor the Defense Ministry would comment.

The tourists _ between seven and 10 French in one group and five British citizens in…

…another _ were seized Thursday in Dalol, 500 miles northeast of the capital Addis Ababa, according to a businessman and a tour operator in the area. They asked not to be named because of the sensitivity surrounding the matter.

In London, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett confirmed that five of the missing are employees of the British Embassy in Addis Ababa or their relatives.

Officials “are doing all they can to ensure that the situation is resolved peacefully,” she said. “We are also coordinating with other governments.”

A spokeswoman for the British Foreign Office, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity, said the 10-personcrisis team arrived Saturday in Addis Ababa and “would go where they are needed.”

Ethiopian state media confirmed the kidnapping Friday night and said 13 Ethiopians also were missing in the northeastern Afar region, a barren expanse of volcanoes and ancient salt mines where bandits and rebels roam.

As required by the Ethiopian government, the tour groups were traveling with armed guards. The region is not heavily traveled because it is so remote, but the other-worldy landscape lures adventure travelers.

Dominique Gautier, spokesman for the French Embassy in Addis Ababa, arrived Friday in Mekele, Afar’s capital, but said he had no details.

A French television crew that was also traveling in the area and whose members had been out of touch turned up safe in Mekele on Friday, but they were not among the missing tourists, said Samson Teshome, head of Origins Ethiopia, a new tour agency specializing in Afar. The missing Westerners were also believed to be clients of Origins, but company officials would not comment on that.

Bandits and a small rebel group operate in Afar, where the famous Ethiopian fossil of Lucy was discovered in 1974. The region is known for its challenging terrain and roasting heat. The average annual temperature is 94 degrees Fahrenheit, but the mercury often climbs much higher.

In 1995, rebels from the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front kidnapped Italian tourists but released them weeks later. The ARDUF has been fighting for years against Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea over lands inhabited by ethnic Afar.

The tour operator said the tourists were clients of Origins Ethiopia, a new tour agency specializing in Afar, and company officials told him that they have been unable to contact the tourists.

Origins Ethiopia officials did not immediately provide comment.

The tourists left Mekele on Sunday for a two-day drive to Hamedali, a remote village that is the last staging post before the area’s famous saltlakes, the operator said. Then they went on a two-hour drive to Dalol to visit the salt mines and were supposed to return to Hamedali.


Associated Press writer Anthony Mitchell in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.

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