Update: Westerners feared kidnapped in Ethiopia

2nd March 2007, Comments 0 comments

ADDIS ABABA, March 2, 2007 (AFP) - More than a dozen Western tourists believed to be British and French nationals were feared kidnapped in northeastern Ethiopia on Friday.

ADDIS ABABA, March 2, 2007 (AFP) - More than a dozen Western tourists believed to be British and French nationals were feared kidnapped in northeastern Ethiopia on Friday.

The British Foreign Office said that a number of British nationals connected to government agencies were missing in the desert region of Afar which borders southern Eritrea.

"We can confirm that a group of Western tourists is missing in eastern Ethiopia including a number of British nationals with connections to the British Council, the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development," a spokesman said.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said: "several Westerners are thought to have been kidnapped in northern Ethiopia. We still do not know for certain their number or nationality, even if several indications lead us to believe there are French nationals among them."

Stephane Gompertz, France's ambassador to Ethiopia, said: "There has been a kidnapping, that's certain ... It happened the evening before yesterday (Wednesday)," adding that one or two groups of tourists were involved.

The Ethiopian government requires tourists to the area to travel with police escorts due to regular bandit attacks.

A French volcano trekking specialist Aventure et Volcans, based in Paris, said it had no news of one of its groups, made up of two couples and three single men, all in their fifties, who were on a trek to see a volcano.

Origins Ethiopia, an Ethiopian tour operator, told AFP that two groups of Western tourists had been missing in northern Ethiopia since Tuesday night.

"In the first convoy, there were 11 French, my guide, three drivers, a cook, two policemen. The other group had three British residents in Ethiopia, a cook, a guide, and two policemen," an official from the company said, requesting anonymity.

He said he lost contact with the guides accompanying the tourists on Tuesday evening.

"A driver of one of my colleagues called me yesterday (Thursday) to inform me that one or two of my groups had been kidnapped," he said.

The Ethiopian government on Friday said it would do everything possible to ensure the safety of the missing tourists.

"We heard about an abduction and we are trying to confirm their whereabouts," Berekhat Simon, communication advisor to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, told AFP by telephone, adding: "We'll try our best to ensure their safety."

Ethiopian federal police said they were investigating along with regional police in the remote Afar region.

"We don't know if they have been kidnapped," said spokesman Demsach Hailu.

French embassy officials were en route to the desert region Friday.

Meanwhile, the British Foreign Office said it had amended its travel advice for Britons in or intending to head to the area.

"Pending further clarification, we advise against all travel to the Afar and Danakil regions of north-eastern Ethiopia," the ministry's website said.

A French tourist disappeared in the region in 2004 leaving behind no trace apart from a rucksack.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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