Kidnapped Ethiopians found near Eritrea border

March 5th, 2007 Print Print Email Email

Reuters | Sunday, 4 March 2007

ADDIS ABABA: Five Ethiopians out of 13 believed kidnapped alongside a party of five Britons in one of Ethiopia’s most hostile regions have been found, while a manhunt for the rest of the team has been intensified. The state-run Ethiopian News Agency said Ethiopian security officials reported the five men had been picked up by security forces patrolling the Eritrean border.“According to the official, five of the 13 Ethiopians abducted by armed men last Thursday have joined Ethiopian security forces in the area after they reached the Eritrean border by walking a three-four hour distance from Hamedilla,” the agency said, quoting an unnamed security source.

Hamedilla is a salt market town from where the tourists were taken in the middle of the night as they slept, said Ismael Ali Sero, the head of the Afar administrative region.

The five Britons, believed to include diplomats from the British embassy in Addis Ababa, went missing in the remote and inhospitable Afar area in the north-east of Ethiopia.

Ethiopian police later said 13 Ethiopians who worked as drivers and translators for the five Europeans were also taken.

The Ethiopian news agency report did not say whether the five Ethiopians had been freed or escaped from their captors.

Sero accused Eritrean forces on Saturday of kidnapping the Europeans and the Ethiopians and taking them to a military camp in neighbouring Eritrea.

Eritrean officials could not be immediately be reached for comment, but Asmara routinely denies accusations of infiltration by its arch-foe. Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a war in 1998-2000 and still dispute their border.

Britain sent a team of Foreign Office officials on Saturday to Ethiopia to step up diplomatic efforts to free the missing persons who it said were embassy staff or their relatives.

A small delegation of British embassy staff flew to the city of Mekele, which has the closest airport to the area where the Westerners went missing, expatriate sources said. Ethiopia said its federal security forces were also combing the area.

A separate group of French tourists also went missing on Thursday, but the head of the tour company that organised their trip and an Ethiopian security official said the team was safe and had not been kidnapped.

The French Foreign Ministry said it still had not had any direct contact with its nationals and could not confirm what the tour operator said.

Afar, one of Ethiopia’s poorest regions, was also the site of a low-level rebellion against the government in the 1990s by separatists calling for an Afar state on territory straddling Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.

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