Ethiopia accused neighboring Eritrea of backing gunmen who killed five European tourists yesterday in the northeastern region of Afar. Eritrea’s ambassador to the African Union rejected the accusation as an “absolute lie.” Those killed include people from Germany, Belgium, Hungary, Italy and Austria, Ethiopian Communications Minister Bereket Simon said in a phone interview today from Bahir Dar, 320 kilometers (199 miles) northwest of Addis Ababa, the capital. They were attacked while exploring volcanic sites in the Erta Ale area, about 25 kilometers from the Eritrean border, he said.
“The terrorist group from Eritrea, crossed the border and attacked, killing five and wounding one,” Bereket said. “One was missing, but I think he has been found. The perpetrators have gone back to Eritrea.”
In April, Ethiopia said it would increase support for Eritrean rebels seeking to overthrow the government of Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki, and accused the state of destabilizing the region. Eritrea criticized Ethiopia’s stance as a declaration of war. Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a 1998-2000 border war that killed 70,000 people, according to the Brussels- based International Crisis Group.
“Anything that happens they say it’s Eritrea,” Girma Asmerom, the Eritrean ambassador to the AU, said in a phone interview today from Addis Ababa. “It is pathetic and disgusting.”
In February, Ethiopia said it foiled an attempt by the Eritrean-backed Oromo Liberation Front rebel group to bomb an AU summit in Addis Ababa in January 2011.
Bereket said three policemen who were escorting the tourists may have been taken hostage by the gunmen. Ethiopia will take “appropriate measures” to protect its national security, he said.
“It also calls on the international community, especially the United Nations, to be more stringent on sanctioning the Eritrean government,” he said. “The leniency has been the reason why this government is emboldened.”
Eritrea has been under UN sanctions since December 2009 for its alleged support of militants fighting to topple the UN- backed government of Somalia. Eritrea’s Foreign Ministry says the sanctions are “unjustifiable.”