- The Ethiopian government has accused Eritrea of "terrorism" after the kidnapping of European tourists and their Ethiopian guides. While the five European tourists where released in Eritrea and sent to Britain via Ethiopia, the eight abducted Ethiopians remain in the neighbour country.
The group of European tourists - including staff from the British embassy in Addis Ababa - and their Ethiopian guides were taken hostage while travelling in Ethiopia's remote desert Afar region, which borders Djibouti and Eritrea. Ethiopian investigators soon followed their track to the Eritrean border, and on Tuesday, the Eritrean government announced their release in Asmara, the capital.
According to a statement released by the British embassy in Ethiopia, all the European travellers were in good health and spirit and claimed to have been treated "well" while in custody of the abductors. They were sent from Asmara to Addis Ababa, from where their flight to the UK was quickly arranged.
The true story behind their kidnapping in Afar however still remains untold, as does the faith of the eight Ethiopian hostages still in Eritrea. According to a press release from the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the "crime of abduction was masterminded and executed by the Eritrean government."
Addis Ababa grossly accused Eritrea of "terrorism" in relation with the abductions, also citing earlier "terrorist acts committed by the Eritrean government in different cities and towns in Ethiopia including in Addis Ababa. Through these terrorist acts, the Eritrean government carried out bomb attacks against hotels, market areas and public transport targeting civilians."
The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry further claims "the Eritrean regime had planned to disrupt the 8th African Union Summit," which was recently held in Addis Ababa. Finally, it quoted a recent UN report on Somalia, which had "exposed that the Eritrean government has been training, organising and providing weapons to terrorist groups in Somalia."
Following its propaganda war against Eritrea, the Ethiopian government has raised concerns among Ethiopians that the remaining eight hostages may be caused harm in Asmara. Concerned citizens organised a night vigil in support of the Ethiopian hostages, demanding the Eritrean government set them free unconditionally.
Eritrea, which wages its own propaganda war against Ethiopia, has categorically denied the Ethiopian accusations, calling them "outrageous". According to the Eritreans, the hostages were taken by militants of the Ethiopian rebel group Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF), which fights for Afar unity across the borders of Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.
Eritrean sources further held that the ARDUF militants had been contacted by Afar elders, objecting to the kidnapping and negotiating the release of the hostages. Once released, they were handed over to Eritrean authorities and transported to Asmara.
Ethiopians however doubt this version, believing highly militarised Eritrea is in firm control of its Afar region and that such activities could not have happened without the knowledge and approval of authorities. They further find it suspicious that no arrests have been announced and that the eight Ethiopian hostages were not released together with the Europeans. It is widely believed that Asmara will claim a ransom for their release.
Due to the total lack of cooperation and dialogue across the Ethiopian-Eritrean border since the 1998-2000 border war, it is not likely that the full truth of the kidnapping will be known. Both sides know how to make use of the incident as part of their propaganda wars.
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