Alexa
  • Directory of Taiwan

French and British tourists kidnapped in remote northeastern Ethiopia

French and British tourists kidnapped in remote northeastern Ethiopia

At least a dozen Western tourists were kidnapped in remote northeastern Ethiopia, a spectacular yet barren expanse of volcanoes and ancient salt mines where bandits and rebels operate, diplomats and local businessmen said Friday.
The tourists _ between seven and 10 French in one group and five British citizens in another _ were seized Thursday in Dalol, 800 kilometers (500 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa, according to a businessman and a tour operator who work in the area. They asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
As required by the Ethiopian government, the groups were traveling in the Afar region with armed guards. The region is not heavily traveled because it's so remote, but the other-worldy landscape draws adventure travelers.
In a statement in London, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett confirmed that five of the missing were "members of staff, or relatives of members of staff, at our embassy in Addis Ababa."
The statement added that British officials were working closely with Ethiopian authorities, and "they have made it clear that they are doing all they can to ensure that the situation is resolved peacefully."
Britain was sending a 10-person crisis team to Ethiopia, Prime Minister Tony Blair's office said. A government official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue, said it appeared French and British nationals were being held in separate groups.
Dominique Gautier, spokesman for the French Embassy in Addis Ababa, arrived Friday in Mekele, the regional capital of the Afar region, 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 Afar rebel group operate in the Afar region, which is known for its difficult terrain and roasting heat. The average annual temperature is 94 degrees Fahrenheit (34 Celsius), but the mercury often soars much higher. The area is where the famous Ethiopian fossil of Lucy was discovered in 1974.
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 visiting the salt lakes, 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.
Ethiopia's government spokesman, Zemedkun Tekle, said officials were struggling because the area is so remote.
___
Associated Press writer Anthony Mitchell in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.