15 foreigners kidnapped in Ethiopia

By Andrew Heavens ADDIS ABABA, Reuters

Fifteen foreigners, including 11 French nationals, two Britons and an Italian, are 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.

Afar separatists started a low-level rebellion against the government in the 1990s, calling for a separate Afar state on territory straddling Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.

Afar is one of Ethiopia’s poorest regions, populated mostly by roaming herders who scrape a living with sheep and goats.

The second missing group of five people, thought to be touring the Danakil Depression, included two Britons, one French national and one Italian, according to expatriates. The last missing person is also said to be British, but that could not be confirmed.

“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, Foreign Office and DFID,” a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said in London. DFID stands for Britain’s Department for International Development.

One of the lowest and hottest places on earth, and a magnet to adventurous travellers, the Danakil Depression is known for volcanoes, ancient salt mines and unworldly, flat landscapes.

It was not known exactly where the first group of 10 French tourists had been within the Afar region.