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Last Updated: Monday, 12 March 2007, 13:10 GMT
Tribal help sought in kidnap hunt
Location map of Ethiopia

Ethiopian and Eritrean officials are contacting a network of Afar tribal elders in the search for five missing tourists, says the UK foreign office.

Contrary to reports, they said British government investigators had not had any direct contact with the kidnappers.

British Embassy officials have found one of the damaged cars used by the group - four Britons, one French citizen and their Ethiopian staff.

They have not been seen since being abducted 11 days ago in north Ethiopia.

On Sunday British Embassy staff used a pick-up truck to bring back the damaged Land Rover from Hamedali, in the remote Afar region near Eritrea, to Mekele in northern Ethiopia.

Danakil Depression

The vehicle, which had a grenade thrown into the passenger side door, was one of three used by the group.

All were damaged by shrapnel or an explosion when the group were kidnapped in a night- time raid on their camp.

The Foreign Office sais it was investigating reports that the kidnappers were Afar separatist rebels.

The Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin earlier said the staff were being held in the area of the Danakil Depression.

He said the party was in the Afar region, which covers areas on both sides of the Eritrean-Ethiopian border.

Mr Mesfin said they were "safe and well" but did not know who the kidnappers were.

Co-operating

The state-run Ethiopian News Agency said five of the eight Ethiopians who were with the kidnapped group were found near the Eritrean border on 3 March.

According to a community leader, information about the kidnapped group was passed on by nomadic herders in Eritrea.

An Eritrean government spokesman denied the embassy staff were in the country.

"We understand the concern of the families, but this event happened inside Ethiopia and it is taking place inside Ethiopia," Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu told Reuters.

The UK Foreign Office said it was satisfied the Eritrean government had no part in the abduction and that it was co-operating with the search.

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 following a 30-year guerrilla war and relations between the two countries have been strained since.




SEE ALSO
Q&A: Ethiopia's Afar community
05 Mar 07 |  Africa
Country profile: Ethiopia
02 Mar 07 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Eritrea
19 Dec 06 |  Country profiles

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