Friday, January 20, 2012

Update: Murder of Five Foreign Tourists in Ethiopia

As a follow-up to my earlier posting on the murder of five European tourists visiting a volcanic region in Ethiopia on Wednesday (January 18), the tour groups, totaling 20 persons, were camped on the lip of a crater after leaving armed escorts at the base camp. Reportedly, the armed assailants numbered nearly 40. It should be noted that details are still sketchy.

Tragically, they were attacked by unknown gunmen at approximately 0100 hours. Among the dead included two Germans, two Hungarians, and an Austrian, who were executed, while others in the group, possibly four, were kidnapped. Survivors had to contact a German tour operator to alert the Ethiopian government to launch a rescue mission.

COMMENT: Although the Danakil Depressions is one of Ethiopia's most popular tourist spots, the probing question is why were the armed guards not with the European tourists? Perhaps this will be disclosed in coming days. Perhaps not. The fact that the guards were assigned to the group in the first place, suggests as comprehension of a foreseeable threat.

It is clear to virtually everyone that knows the region in which this unprovoked attack occurred that Ethiopia and Eritrea have never been on friendly terms. To begin with, 80,000 people on both sides of the border died during hostilities during 1998-2000. To this day, the border disputed remains unresolved.

Although Ethiopian officials contend that the assailants came from Eritrea, it appears that there is no evidence of that, although it is possible.

What is known is that two Germans and two Ethiopians who were with the tour group are missing and may have been kidnapped.

The incident occurred within 15 miles of the Eritrean border, which is problematic considering many foreign governments have urged their nationals to stay within 30 miles of the Eritrean border.

Although it is reasonable for the Ethiopian government to conclude that the large griup of assailants came from Eritrea, its public outrage doesn't mean it is so, until a claim is made taking credit for the attack, or Ethiopia produces evidence that the attack originated in Eritrea.

The insecurity in the area is one basis for which the US Department of State has urged its employees NOT to travel within 30 miles of the border, which the Department describes as a "militarized zone where the possibility of armed conflict between Ethiopian and Eritrean forces continues to exist."

Last year, the UN accused Eritrea of being behind a plot to bomb a January 2010 African Union summit in Addis Ababa, and the war of words has escalated since. It is always possible that hostilities could resume, particularly in light of this attack.

A handful of assailants against tourists in one of the most isolated areas on Earth is one thing, but an armed force of 40 suggests a serious plan to leave few standing.

Considering that it was the Ethiopian government that mandated that armed guards accompany tour groups in the area in which the attack occurred, why were the guards left behind? And where are the two Germans and Ethiopians that may have been kidnapped? Why were they kidnapped and what do their captors want?

Until such time as motive and the identity and nationality of the assailants is flushed out, the Ethiopian government should CEASE all tour groups within 30 miles of the Eritrean border.

A final question. If the assailants were in a group as large as 40, all presumably carrying guns, and the armed guards assigned to the tourists were not with them at the time of the attack, why were all of the tourists not killed?

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