Kidnapped Tourists To Be Reunited With Family

Wednesday, March 14th 2007, 7:01 am
By: News On 6

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) _ Five Europeans were to be reunited with family and loved ones after being kidnapped in Ethiopia and held captive for 13 days by an armed rebel group in one of the most inhospitable places on earth, officials said Wednesday.

However, fears were growing for the eight Ethiopians who were kidnapped with the group and who are still missing. The Ethiopian government called for their immediate release.

The five Europeans, kidnapped while on a sightseeing tour near the disputed border with Eritrea, were released Tuesday and taken to the British Embassy in Asmara, the Eritrean capital, where they were fed and given medical checkups.

A British Foreign Office Official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with ministry policy, said they were to leave Asmara shortly although declined to give their final destination.

Michael Moore, the head of the British Council's Ethiopia office and the husband of one of the kidnapped tourists, said Wednesday he spoke briefly with his wife by phone.

``She sounded well and healthy. I am feeling very relieved and grateful for all the work that has been done so far,'' Moore told The Associated Press in Addis Ababa. He said they did not discuss details of her ordeal.

Eritrea, which has denied having anything to do with the kidnapping, blamed the Ethiopian rebel group Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front. ARDUF, established in the 1990s, aims to unite Afar tribespeople in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea.

The claim could not be independently confirmed.

Relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea have been strained since Eritrea gained independence from the Addis Ababa government in 1993 following a 30-year guerrilla war. The two countries fought a two-year border war that ended in 2000.

The hostages were in the remote Afar region of northeastern Ethiopia when they were seized at gunpoint along with 13 Ethiopians. Their 4x4 vehicles were later discovered abandoned, riddled with bullet holes and grenade shrapnel, although officials have said nobody was believed to have been in the cars at the time of the shooting.

Five of the Ethiopians had earlier been reported to have escaped or been released, but eight are still missing. The Ethiopian government, in a statement read on state-owned Ethiopian Television's evening news Tuesday, welcomed the release of the five Europeans and expressed concern about the eight Ethiopians.

``These citizens should be released without any preconditions,'' the Information Ministry statement said.

The Europeans who were kidnapped are: Peter Rudge, first secretary of the British embassy in Addis Ababa; embassy worker Jonathan Ireland; Malcolm Smart and Frenchwoman Laure Beaufils of the Department for International Development; and Moore's wife, Rosanna Moore, an Anglo-Italian.

It was not clear where the tour group had been held. Ethiopian officials have said the hostages may have been taken by rebel gunmen and marched across the porous Ethiopian border into neighboring Eritrea. But Eritrea said Tuesday that the hostages only crossed into Eritrea immediately before being handed over to the embassy.