AddisAbaba, January 19, 2012 [ras] – Five foreign tourists have been killed in Ethiopia’s remote north-eastern Afar region by unknown gunmen who came across the Eritrean border, according to Addis Ababa.
The Ethiopian government said the assailants were trained and armed by Eritrea to carry out the attack; an allegation Asmara denies.
A total of 27 foreign tourists and two Ethiopians (a driver and a policeman) visiting tourist attractions in the region came under attack.
The assault took place near Erta Ale, one of Ethiopia’s most active volcanoes, located along the inhospitable Danakil Depression.
The shooting, which took place late on Monday, led to the death of two Germans, two Hungarians and an Austrian. German, Belgian and Italian nationals were wounded in the shoot out.
Americans were amongst those who escaped unhurt.
The attackers have kidnapped two Ethiopians and two Germans who were taken across border to Eritrea. The bodies of the victims have been flown to Addis Ababa.
Eleven survivors of the attack arrived in Addis Ababa on Wednesday.
Speaking to Reuters, Girma Asmerom, Eritrea’s envoy to the African Union (AU), dismissed the accusations saying “it has become a trend for Ethiopia to fabricate sensational news against Eritrea whenever the summit is nearing”, in reference to the AU summit scheduled to take place 23-30 January.
“This is pathetic, an absolute lie. Eritrea has nothing to do with any of these movements,” he added.
Since the Ethiopia’s former province, Eritrea, gained independence in 1993, the Afar region, one of world’s hottest areas, has become home to Ethiopian separatists, pro-government militias and Eritrean bandits.
Following Eritrea’s independence, the two east African countries have been bitter adversaries. During 1998-2000, the two rivals engaged in a bloody border war which killed at least 70,000 people.
With their border dispute yet unsettled, the two neighbours remain at loggerheads.
A similar incident occurred in 2007 when five Europeans were kidnapped in the region by Eritrea-based Afar separatists.
Asmara and Addis Ababa routinely accuse each other of supporting one another rebel movements.