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Sunday, March 04, 2007

Hostages 'held in Eritrean rebel camp'

FIVE Britons kidnapped while on a camping trip to a remote Ethiopian desert are believed to be held captive in neighbouring Eritrea.

The three men and two women, who were taken on Thursday, are said to be in a military camp in Eritrea known as Arata, about 12 miles inside the border.

Ismael Ali Serro, the Ethiopian official in charge of the region, said: “They were taken to Asab province in Eritrea. We have confirmation that the commandos came from Arata military training camp.” The Eritrean government has denied the claim. If confirmed, however, it suggests the Eritrean army could be involved. The Foreign Office would not comment.

Tony Hickey, manager of Ethiopian Quadrant — the tour operator which helped to organise the trip — also claimed the hostages were being held in Eritrea. He said he had spoken to someone who had seen them at the military camp.

A Special Boat Service team was said by military sources to be on stand-by to attempt a rescue. A team of advisers from the Foreign Office arrived in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, yesterday to help with the diplomatic effort.

On Friday, the government’s emergency planning committee, Cobra, discussed the incident. Four of the hostages are connected to the British embassy and were working for the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development. A fifth, Rossanna Moore, is British-Italian and the wife of Michael Moore, director of the British Council in Ethiopia.

A government source asked the media not to name the hostages. Moore’s identity was released by the Italian press.

The travellers were kidnapped on Thursday in the village of Hamedela, about 500 miles northeast of Addis Ababa. Thirteen Ethiopians were also taken.

The region is the scene of skirmishes between government forces and separatist rebels and has been particularly tense since Ethiopia sent its army into Somalia to oust an Islamist regime.

“Their compound was surrounded by about 50 armed men who overpowered their armed guards,” said Hickey.

The kidnappers also burnt two houses, destroyed the tourists’ two vehicles and blew up two Ethiopian Jeeps.

The Sunday Times
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