* Tourists attacked early Tuesday
* Addis Ababa says "Eritrea-trained" group responsible
* Eritrea denies accusation
* Region officials say working for their release
By Aaron Maasho
ADDIS ABABA, Jan 19 Authorities in
Ethiopia's northern Afar region have sent elders to try to
secure the release of two German tourists and two Ethiopians
kidnapped by gunmen in the remote province, an official said on
The four were part of a large group of 27 tourists attacked
by gunmen at dawn Tuesday. Two other Germans, two Hungarians and
an Austrian were killed in the raid.
Ethiopia has accused neighbour and arch-foe Eritrea of being
behind the attack, claiming it had trained and armed the gunmen.
Ethiopia also blamed an Afar rebel movement it said was backed
by Eritrea for kidnapping five Westerners in the region in 2007.
Ethiopia also says the hostages may have been taken to
Eritrea. Eritrea rejects Ethiopia's accusations.
"The region is doing all it can to have them released. We
have dispatched a team of elders to secure their freedom from
their captors," Ismael Ali Sero, president of the Afar Region,
told state-run Ethiopian Television (ETV).
Ismael did not disclose whether the group had already made
contact with the captors, or if officials had located their
Foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti told Reuters the Horn
of Africa country was "doing its best" to secure their release.
A Hungarian national, a Belgian and a citizen of another
country who resides in Brussels were also wounded in the attack
and have been taken to a hospital in Mekele, northern Ethiopia's
State TV showed footage of one of the victims being pulled
in a gurney towards a helicopter, while another foreigner was
seen lying on a stretcher receiving treatment for chest wounds.
Hospital workers said the victims had responded well to
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a 1998-2000 border war that
killed 70,000 people, and the dispute still festers.
A foreign ministry official told Reuters the attack was
carried out by a heavily-armed group of 30 to 40 men.
Foreigners who venture out into the area usually include
researchers, aid workers and about 500 adventure tourists each
year visiting geographical wonders such as the Danakil
Depression, with ancient salt mines and volcanoes.
Afar is an arid stretch in Ethiopia's northeast that is home
to some of the world's harshest landscape with high temperatures
regularly exceeding 50 degrees Celsius in the summer.
In 2007, gunmen seized five Europeans and eight Ethiopians
in Afar. The Europeans were handed to the Eritrean authorities
less than two weeks later and Britain said Asmara had helped to
secure their release. The eight locals were freed a few weeks
(Editing by James Macharia and Peter Graff)