Five Europeans are released in Ethiopia

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A group of British embassy workers kidnapped in northern Ethiopia 12 days ago have been released, Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett has said. The workers - four British citizens and one French citizen and Ethiopian staff working with them, had been held in Eritrea, she announced on Tuesday.

The party were apparently on a sightseeing tour when they were abducted on 1 March. Beckett also said that all kidnapped were safe and well and were:

...broadly all in good health...

The group went missing on March 1 on a tourist trip to visit geological sites in the remote Afar region, in the country's north. Two vehicles belonging to the group were later found in a north-eastern village called Hamedali. The vehicles were found were riddled with bullets, but still contained luggage and mobile telephones.

The region in which the Hamedali is, Afar, straddles the border of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi had said on Monday that Ethiopian officials had a "good idea" of where the hostages were being held.

Zenawi announced that embassy staff had not been specifically targeted and suggested that the kidnapping might have been a "mistake". Hamedali is a staging post for tourists venturing into the unique geological formations of the Danakil Depression, including the area's famous salt lakes. The area is one of the hottest and inhospitable lands on Earth. Visitors are warned by the government to travel in a convoy with armed guards because of rebels and bandits. Witnesses stated that around 50 men burst Hamedali and marched the foreigners towards the Eritrean border.