Published January 18, 2012
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Austrian, Belgian, German, Hungarian and Italian nationals are among the foreign tourists attacked by gunmen in the country's north, an Ethiopian official said Wednesday.
Bereket Simon, the country's communications minister, said officials could not yet say with certainty which among them were killed and which were injured. Bereket said rebels trained and armed by the tiny nation of Eritrea shot five tourists dead and wounded two during an attack Monday.
Bereket also said a "few" tourists are missing. It was not immediately clear if that meant they had been kidnapped. Ethiopian state television reported on Tuesday that there had been eight tourists in the targeted group, but Bereket suggested Wednesday that the group was larger.
Austrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Peter Launsky-Tiefenthal said late Tuesday that two groups totaling as many as 22 people may have been attacked, though he said the numbers were not confirmed. He said that unconfirmed reports said that some tourists were killed, others wounded and some taken hostage.
The tourists were visiting the volcanic region in Ethiopia's northern Afar region when "some groups trained and armed by the Eritrean government attacked them," Bereket said. He said the attack occurred 12 to 15 miles from the Eritrean border.
Eritrea's ambassador to the African Union Girma Asmerom said Ethiopia's allegations are "fabricated" and an "absolute lie" and that the attack is an internal Ethiopian matter.
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war from 1998 to 2000, which claimed the lives of about 80,000 people. Tension between the neighboring East African countries rose last year when a U.N. report revealed that Eritrea was behind a plot to attack an African Union summit in Ethiopia in January.
Launsky-Tiefenthal said there was an Austrian Foreign Ministry travel warning in effect for the region since 2007 "because of several incidents involving attacks on tourist groups ... in some case politically motivated in others criminally motivated."
"The problem is, there is no infrastructure in the area, no telephone lines, satellite phones barely work," he said, describing the remote area as akin to "the surface of Mars."