Unfortunately, reports vary in terms of the actual number of tourists who were attacked; some estimates place the number at eight, while others indicate that the number of tourists might have reached as many as 22.
The tourists were visiting a volcanic region in Ethiopia's northern Afar region, which lies below sea level and is known for its intense heat and picturesque salt flats.
COMMENT: According to Ethiopian government reports, the attack occurred some 20 to 25 kilometers (12 to 15 miles) from the Eritrean border. In turn, Eritrea's ambassador to the African Union vigorously denied the Ethiopian report of the events.
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war from 1998 to 2000, claiming the lives of about 80,000 people. Tension between the neighboring East African countries rose again last year when a UN report claimed that Eritrea was behind a plot to attack an African Union summit in Ethiopia.
In 2007, five Europeans and 13 Ethiopians were kidnapped in Afar. Ethiopia accused Eritrea of masterminding that kidnapping, but Eritrea blamed an Ethiopian rebel group. All of those hostages were released, though some of the Ethiopians were held for more than a month. In 2008, Ethiopia foiled a kidnapping attempt on a group of 28 French tourists in the area.
As I mentioned in yesterday's posting, it is essential that foreign travelers systematically assess their personal risk to hostile action in isolated areas, particularly in developing countries, where there is sparse infrastructure and host government protection.
Not only must travelers confer with their governments' websites, but additionally speak with their respective embassies in Addis before embarking on travel into a high-risk region, particularly given the bad blood between Ethiopia and Eritrea over the years.
It should be noted that several foreign governments have warned their nationals NOT to travel within THIRTY MILES (24 kilometers) of the Ethiopian-Eritrean border. What was the tour operator thinking?