Western tourists kidnapped in Ethiopia

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) - More than a dozen Western tourists are feared kidnapped in northern Ethiopia with the French foreign minister saying on Friday that he thought French nationals are among the group.
An Ethiopian tour operator told AFP on Friday that 11 French and three British nationals on one of its tours had been missing in the same area since Tuesday evening.
The Ethiopian government requires tourists to the northern desert region of Afar to travel with police escorts due to regular bandit attacks in the area, which borders southern Eritrea.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said: "According to our information, 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," he said.
Stephane Gompertz, France's ambassador to Ethiopia, said: "There has been a kidnapping, that's certain ... It happened the evening before yesterday (Wednesday). It's not very clear who was kidnapped," adding that one or two groups of tourists were involved.
Origins Ethiopia, an Ethiopian tour operator told AFP that two groups of Western tourists had been missing in northern Ethiopia since Tuesday night.
"In the first convoy, there were 11 French, my guide, three drivers, a cook, two policemen. The other group had three British residents in Ethiopia, a cook, a guide, and two policemen," an official from the company said, requesting anonymity.
"Each convoy was escorted by two police officers. In total there were four cars, including four drivers and two guides," he said.
The tourists left the village of Mekele and were heading for Hamedali and Dalol, villages more than 800 kilometres (500 miles) northeast of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
He said he lost contact with the guides accompanying the tourists on Tuesday evening.
"A driver of one of my colleagues called me yesterday (Wednesday) to inform me that one or two of my groups had been kidnapped," he said.
A spokesman for Ethiopian federal police said they were investigating the matter with regional police in the northern Afar region.
"We don't know if they have been kidnapped," said Demsach Hailu.
The Ethiopian Information Ministry said the government had contacted local authorities and that officials were meeting on the issue.
The French embassy, which held an emergency meeting on Friday, said it would send a diplomat to northern Ethiopia as soon as possible. Diplomatic sources said the British embassy was taking similar action.
A French tourist disappeared in the region in 2004 leaving behind no trace apart from a rucksack.

Copyright 2007 Agence France Presse.
It's almost Darwinian. Why would anyone with a brain be travelling in such a politically unstable part of the world?

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