Updated March 5 2007 12:00 AM EST
SAS POISED FOR HOSTAGES RESCUE
UK Elite troops fly out for desert missionis Hughes
MORE than 60 SAS troops flew to Africa yesterday as part of a mission to save five British hostages.
The crack squad will be on standby to free the hostages by force if negotiations and communications fail.
The tourist group were last seen on Thursday as they travelled through a remote desert area of Ethiopia.
Members of the SAS's Standby Squadron were last night flying to neighbouring Djibouti, where they will line up alongside men from the French Foreign Legion.
Updated March 4 2007 2:10 AM EST
Five kidnapped Ethiopians found near Eritrea border
By Andrew Heavens
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Five Ethiopians out of 13 believed kidnapped alongside a party of five Britons in one of Ethiopia's most hostile regions have been found, while a manhunt for the rest of the team has been intensified.
The state-run Ethiopian News Agency said Ethiopian security officials reported the five men had been picked up by security forces patrolling the Eritrean border.
"According to the official, five of the 13 Ethiopians abducted by armed men last Thursday have joined Ethiopian security forces in the area after they reached the Eritrean border by walking a 3-4 hour distance from Hamedilla," the agency said late on Saturday, quoting an unnamed security source.
Hamedilla is a salt market town from where the tourists were taken in the middle of the night as they slept, said Ismael Ali Sero, the head of the Afar administrative region.
The five Britons, believed to include diplomats from the British embassy in Addis Ababa, went missing in the remote and inhospitable Afar area in the north-east of Ethiopia.
Ethiopian police later said 13 Ethiopians who worked as drivers and translators for the five Europeans were also taken.
The Ethiopian news agency report did not say whether the five Ethiopians had been freed or escaped from their captors.
Ethiopia official says tourists held by Eritreans
03 Mar 2007 15:16:00 GMT
By Andrew Heavens
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (Reuters) - An Ethiopian administrator accused Eritrean forces of kidnapping a group of five Europeans and 13 Ethiopians in a remote part of Ethiopia, and taking them to a military camp near the Eritrean border.
Two groups of tourists, including at least seven French nationals and five Britons, were believed to have been kidnapped in a remote, inhospitable area of the Horn of Africa nation.
"They were taken to Wema district of Asab Province in Eritrea. This has been confirmed by two Ethiopians of Afar origin who have been left behind," Ismael Ali Sero, the head of the Afar administrative region, told Reuters by telephone.
"We have confirmation that the commandos came from Arat military training camp inside Eritrea. They torched four vehicles and two homes before they left with the group."
Britain sent a six-strong team of senior Foreign Office officials to Ethiopia to step up diplomatic efforts to free the foreigners.
The head of the tour company that organized the trip for the seven French tourists said earlier on Saturday the French were safe. But a French diplomat was unable to confirm the report, saying Paris had not yet made direct contact with them.
British officials said five of those missing were staff from the embassy in Addis Ababa or relatives of members of staff.
Officials said the team sent to Addis Ababa early on Saturday had arrived to help diplomats at the British embassy.
A small delegation of embassy staff has already flown to the city of Mekele in the north of the country, which has the closest airport to the area where the Westerners went missing, expatriate sources said.
Foreign Office officials in London declined to say whether hostage negotiators were among the team sent to Ethiopia.
Tour companies said the groups disappeared while visiting the northeast Afar region, considered one of the world's most hostile terrains. The missing Ethiopians were people from the Afar region and were working as drivers and translators.
Afar, one of Ethiopia's poorest regions, was also the site of a low-level rebellion against the government in the 1990s by separatists calling for an Afar state on territory straddling Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.
MARCHED FOR 18 MILES AT GUNPOINT
Kidnap terror of Brits in Ethiopia
By Susie Boniface
The Sunday Mirror
FIVE Britons missing in Ethiopia were marched at gunpoint for 18 miles after being kidnapped.
They were seized by a gang of 25 Eritrean militiamen after their convoy came under fire from rocket-propelled grenades and four of their cars burned.
The hostages were then frog-marched across the disputed border between Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Last night nomadic tribesman reported the hostages had been spotted alive at a military camp in the town of Waime.
The Foreign Office has flown in a crisis team, including hostage negotiators and two SAS liaison officers, in an effort to secure their release.
The tourists - all staff or relatives of staff from the British embassy in the capital Addis Ababa - had been visiting geological sites in the Afar desert. Italian-born Rossanna Moore, wife of the director of the British Council in Ethiopia, is thought to be among those missing. Her sister Angelica said last night: "We are just hoping and praying this is over quickly."
The hostages were taken captive along with 13 Ethiopians who had been acting as their guides, drivers and cook. Among them were two armed guards without which it is illegal to travel in the area.
Ismael Ali Sero, head of the Afar administrative region, said: "They were taken to Waime district of Asab province in Eritrea. This has been confirmed by two Ethiopians of Afar origin who were left behind. We have confirmation that the commandos came from Arat military training camp inside Eritrea. They torched four vehicles and two homes before they left with the group."
The Foreign Office said last night it was aware of the sightings but was unable to confirm their accuracy. The British team arrived in Ethiopia yesterday to "supplement embassy staff" working to secure the captives' release.
The two SAS officers are believed to be acting as advisers and will be called on to help plan a rescue raid if it becomes necessary. A local unit of the French Foreign Legion from neighbouring Djibouti are also on alert.
Confirmation that the Brits had been spotted came just minutes after a group of French tourists, who had also been missing, were found safe and well.
Q & A
Q WHO has kidnapped the tourists?
A ERITREAN militia, backed up by uniformed soldiers, are believed to have seized the Brits on Thursday night.
Q WHY have they kidnapped them?
A THE Eritreans are fed-up with UN troops patrolling their border with Ethiopia, which has a 15-mile buffer zone. They want international pressure to force a permanent agreed border with their neighbour.
Q WHY is there conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia?
A ETHIOPIA ruled both countries until 1993 when Eritrea won a 30-year war for independence. But a border dispute over a town called Badme continues to cause conflict. The local Afar nomads, who are well known for castrating enemies and wearing the trophies as necklaces, are fighting both sides for independence.
Some Westerners found safe in Ethiopia, others still missing
AFP One group among a number of Western tourists feared kidnapped in Ethiopia are safe and well and have been in contact, their tour operator Origins Ethiopia told AFP Friday.
"One group has reappeared with 10 people," said the head of Origins, Sansom Teshome, who declined to specify their nationalities. "Their satphone was not working, that is why they couldn't contact us."
However, he said seven French tourists, reported missing by Paris-based French volcano trekking specialist Aventure et Volcans, were still unaccounted for.
"So, right now altogether I have seven French missing, with three drivers, one cook, one Afar guide, and two policemen," he said.
Teshome was unable to provide any information on four British tourists, also reported missing, who were travelling with another travel agency.
"They had their own car, another tour operator gave them a cook, a guide and an escort," he said.
The British Foreign Office said Friday that a number of British nationals connected to government agencies were missing in the desert region of Afar which borders southern Eritrea.
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."
The Ethiopian government requires tourists to the area to travel with police escorts due to regular bandit attacks.
Earlier in the day, it was reported that fifteen foreigners, including 11 French nationals, a Briton and an Italian, were believed to have been kidnapped in a remote and inhospitable area of Ethiopia where separatist rebels operate.
"A kidnapping or kidnappings did take place," French Ambassador Stephane Gompertz told Reuters.
Two groups -- one of 10 French tourists, the other comprising a mixture of nationalities -- disappeared earlier in the week while visiting the arid north-east Afar region, considered one of the world's most hostile terrains.
"It seems that the incident or incidents happened two days ago in the evening. At the moment, we don't know which group may be involved or why they have done this," Gompertz added. -- AFP, Reuters
French Embassy in Ethiopia official Dominique Gautier, after he disembarked from an aircraft upon his arrival in Mekele. Ethiopia, Friday, March 2, 2007. 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. (AP Photo/Les Neuhaus)
Ethiopia: what it holds for the adventurous tourist
The kidnap of three Britons in the country's remote northeast region of Afar has cast a spotlight on a little-known tourism destination
The northeastern region of Ethiopia, near the border with Eritrea - a barren, inhospitable but beautiful landscape
The northeastern region of Ethiopa, where the Britons went missing, is the hottest place on earth. Average temperatures are 34C and often rise much higher.
"It [Afar] is a very remote place and looks like the inside of the Earth," says Philip Briggs
"It is a very remote place and looks like the inside of the Earth," says Philip Briggs, author of The Bradt guide to Ethiopa. "You are going in to a desert area that is the hottest place in the world, with lots of hot springs and volcanic activity. It is an expedition.
The kidnapped tourists were in a convoy of four vehicles in Dalol, traveling to the salt mines in the Afar region.They 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. Then they went on a two-hour drive to Dalol to visit the salt mines and were supposed to return to Hamedali
Times columnist Matthew Parris, a man also drawn to geographical extremities, visited the region last year in search of salt for a BBC Radio 4 documentary.
"Hell lies 3,000m (10,000ft) below Mekele, below sea level, in the deserts of the Danakil Depression. A hundred miles over dry mountains and down the other side is an inferno of a place: one of the hottest and most inhospitable on Earth.
In Parris's article, Descent into Hell, he vividly described the brutal landscapes. "Hell lies 3,000m (10,000ft) below Mekele, below sea level, in the deserts of the Danakil Depression. A hundred miles over dry mountains and down the other side is an inferno of a place: one of the hottest and most inhospitable on Earth.
"A range of volcanoes, some extinct, some still spitting sulphur dioxide and simmering orange lava, lines this basin; and a range of hills keeps out the Red Sea. And at its lowest point a salt lake shimmers and stinks in the burning sun, its centre a dead, black sea, its margins a great, unbroken rim of solid salt crust."
15 tourists said kidnapped in Ethiopia
According to Briggs, Ethiopa is becoming a popular destination in Africa. "It is not in the Top 15 but is high in the second division. It has a lot going for it - historical monuments, un-western tribes and space."
Charlie Hopkinson of Dragoman Overland, which has run tours through Ethiopia for a decade, said: "Travellers visit for the country's history and culture - in the north the amazing Christian sites, in the south the tribal heritage, the birdlife around the great lakes along the Rift Valley and trekking in the Simien Mountains'"
An estimated 5,000 British tourists visited Ethiopa last year - but fewer than one per cent would have visited Afar, said Briggs. "You need multiple 4x4s and it probably not the safest place to visit. There is a lot of banditry and you'd need a degree to understand the complex relationships of the region. A lot of people carry machine guns and it is a hard, hard area."
Salt is an important commodity to the region, with Parris following the camel trains. The small town of Berahile is "really the last outpost of modern Ethiopian administration before things turn seriously primitive," he says. "Berahile is a sort of Clapham Junction of the camel-train community. Encamped on the river bed that evening, we counted (as we drank beer, cooled in a deep puddle covered with hessian sacking, at the soldiers’ bar above it) perhaps 500 camels and their drivers."
Most Britons visiting the country are independent travellers, drawn by the monastaries of the northern highlands. A regular visitor, Philip Marsden, travelled to the north last year on assignment for The Sunday Times. "Gorges half a mile deep slice down through the uplands. In places the plateau survives as small, flat-topped islands — ambas — surrounded on all sides by sheer cliffs," he wrote.
But on a previous visit, Marsden reported on the fledgling ecotourism industry, with Ethiopa attracting birdwatchers from Europe in large numbers. His article, Ethiopa starting as it means to go on, concentrated on two eco-lodges that had just opened in the country.
"Go to Kenya or Tanzania, if you want to follow forest paths furrowed deep by the feet of previous visitors," he said. "But Ethiopia in every respect remains that rare thing, a territory of diverse and little-seen wonders."
Ethiopa is still a country dominated by Soviet-style hotels and Soviet-style service, he said, where a rim of concrete safely separates hotels from anything green or muddy or natural. But Bishangari Lodge, one of the eco-lodges he visited, is like "a spring of clear, bubbling water (which is what its name means in Oromo).
"In terms of its tourism, Ethiopia retains the refreshing impression that it has hardly begun, that the country is an empty canvas yet to have the forms and colours of visitors splashed across it. So it was hardly a surprise when, back in Addis Ababa, I heard about a new eco-lodge at Bilen in the Afar region.
"Bilen is a five-hour drive east from the capital, from the green highlands to the desert fringe, from the densely populated heart of the Amhara empire to the hot lowlands, where the pastoral Afar people have never really taken very seriously the notion of central government.
"About 70 years ago, Wilfred Thesiger stopped for a few days at Bilen’s springs. He was the first to explore this region and would shoot at the birds and beasts and any of the Afar that threatened his caravan. He relished being able to report that the necklaces worn by Afar men for prestige were made up of the severed testicles of their enemies."
Ethiopian bolsters Washington-Addis Ababa route
Ethiopian Airlines says it will add two additional flights between Washington Dulles and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The new flights begin June 1, giving Ethiopian six weekly flights on the route. The carrier will offer one round-trip flight every day except Sunday. The flights will be operated on Boeing 767 aircraft and will make a 45-minute refueling stop in Rome. "The airline has long understood the size and potential of the U.S. market, and has begun an aggressive program with travel agents and tour operators to better promote the wonders of Ethiopia, and the quality of our airline," Ethiopian COO Tewolde Gebremariam says in a press release. Ethiopian is expected to be the first African carrier to fly Boeing's 787 Dreamliner model sometime in 2008.
The northeastern region of Ethiopia, near the border with Eritrea - a barren, inhospitable but beautiful landscape
Several Britons with connections to the UK government are part of a group of 15 tourists missing in Ethiopia, the UK Foreign Office has confirmed.
Diplomats in Ethiopia say the group were kidnapped in the remote north-east of the country about 800km (500 miles) from the capital, Addis Ababa.
Most of the tourists are believed to be French, the others British and Italian.
They were travelling to the Afar desert, one of the hottest and most inhospitable areas of the world.
There has been no official word on an abduction from the Ethiopian government so far.
"The government is monitoring the situation," a spokesman for the information ministry said, adding that a statement would be released later in the day.
French diplomats in Ethiopia said the tourists had been kidnapped.
"There has been a kidnapping, that's certain... It happened the evening before yesterday (Wednesday)," the French ambassador to Ethiopia, Stephane Gompertz told AFP news agency.
A businessman told AP news agency that one member of the group managed to escape and use a satellite phone to alert the authorities.
The tourists are reported to have been on camping expedition organised by Origins Ethiopia, a tour operator based in Kenya.
Correspondents say a number of Ethiopian drivers and guides are also missing.
Afar is known for its inhospitable terrain and thieves and a small rebel group are active there.
More intrepid visitors like to tour the Danakil Depression, one of the lowest and hottest places on Earth known for its salt mines and active volcanoes, Reuters news agency reports.
Tourists are advised to travel there with an armed guard.
10 French tourists have been kidnapped in northern Ethiopia, says businessman
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: Ten French tourists were kidnapped in northern Ethiopia Thursday by unknown people, a businessman and a tour operator who work in the region said.
The tourists were in a convoy of four vehicles in Dalol, 800 kilometers (500 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa, traveling to salt mines in the Afar region when they were kidnapped, said the businessman, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
One of them escaped, got to another group of tourists and made a satellite phone call to authorities in the area to report the kidnapping, which took place around 4 p.m. (1300GMT), the businessman said.
Ethiopian government officials said that they did not have any information on the kidnapping. The French Embassy spokesman was not available for comment. French Foreign Ministry in Paris said they were checking the report.
A tour operator, also aware of the details of the incident and who has tourists in the area, said the group was assumed to be kidnapped, but that could not be confirmed.
The operator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said that the tourists were clients of Origins Ethiopia, a new tour agency specializing in Afar, and officials of the company had told him that they have been unable to contact the tourists.
Origins officials did not immediately comment.
The visitors traveled in two groups, the operator said. One group of three cars and 11 people and the second of two people in two cars. The tourists traveled with two armed police and an Afar guide, he said.
They 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 lakes and were supposed to return Hamedali, but have not shown up, he said.
Bandits and a small Afar rebel group operates in the area the tourists visited, which is known for its difficult terrain. The government requires all convoys to have a minimum two cars and always travel with armed guards.
Associated Press writer Anthony Mitchell in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.
Dix touristes français auraient été kidnappés en Ethiopie, selon l'agence américaine AP
Dix touristes français auraient été kidnappés, jeudi 1er mars, dans le nord de l'Ethiopie, selon des informations recueillies par l'agence AP auprès d'un voyagiste de la région ayant requis l'anonymat.
Cette information doit encore être confirmée par l'ambassade française en Ethiopie. Son porte-parole est en effet injoignable par téléphone. Le gouvernement éthiopien, quant à lui, ne disposait pas d'informations sur cette affaire. A Paris, le ministère des affaires étrangères a indiqué à l'agence AP avoir ouvert une enquête.
Les touristes se trouvaient dans un convoi de quatre véhicules à Dalol, à 800 kilomètres de la capitale, Addis-Abeba, et se rendaient vers les mines de sel de la région Afar, a expliqué le voyagiste. L'un d'entre eux serait parvenu à s'échapper et aurait rejoint un autre groupe de touristes. Il aurait ensuite alerté les autorités locales par téléphone satellitaire, indiquant que l'enlèvement aurait eu lieu aux alentours de 16 heures, heure locale (14 heures, heure de Paris).
Les touristes voyagaient avec l'agence Origins Ethiopia, installée depuis peu dans l'Afar. Cette agence a confirmé être sans nouvelles des voyageurs, mais n'a pas voulu faire de commentaires dans l'immédiat. Les touristes voyagaient avec deux policiers armés et un guide de la région, conformément aux exigences du gouvernement éthiopien, qui impose que tout convoi traversant la région, où les attaques sont légion, comporte au minimum deux véhicules et soit accompagné de gardes armés.