Ethiopia kidnapping raises tensions ahead of AU summit | Africa | DW | 19.01.2012
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Africa

Ethiopia kidnapping raises tensions ahead of AU summit

Ahead of next week's African Union summit, the killing of five European tourists in Ethiopia's Afar region has heightened tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Addis Ababa accuses Asmara of orchestrating the attack.

A group of survivors arrive back in Addis Ababa

Survivors arrive back in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, after their ordeal

While European governments urgently consult their embassies in Addis Ababa, Ethiopian security forces are still searching for the armed group that killed the five European tourists and kidnapped two others in the early hours of Tuesday. Ethiopia - which hosts this year's annual African Union summit next week - has blamed the attack on Eritrea, but Asmara denies any involvement. Deutsche Welle spoke to the head of its Amharic Service, Ludger Schadomsky.

Deutsche Welle: How credible is Ethiopia's claim that Eritrea was behind this attack?

Ludgar Schadomsky: Well, to quote the Eritrean ambassador to the African Union, the Ethiopian response is a standard "modus operandi." Ever since the border war started in 1998, the Ethiopians have routinely pointed the finger at Asmara. So, basically, everything that happens on their border is blamed on Eritrea. Eritrea has denied any involvement. But Eritrea does have a problem because a United Nations' probe found the Eritrean government guilty of trying to attack an African Union summit back in January 2011, and this being January 2012, with this year's summit starting next week (23-30 January in Ethiopia), Addis Ababa is saying, "Well, here we go, it's the Eritreans again." So Eritrea is in a tight spot and it will have to do a lot of explaining.

Ludger Schadomsky, head of DW's Amharic Service

Ludger Schadomsky, head of DW's Amharic Service

Can one infer that this attack was banditry sponsored by Eritrea to damage the Ethiopian tourism industry?

I don't think the tourism industry, which is very small still, was the target. If the attack was indeed orchestrated by Eritrea, or Ethiopian rebels supported by Eritrea, I think it was meant to get a message to the government in Addis Ababa to say, "We can strike anywhere, at any time." They're already on high security alert, and this may be another warning from either a local rebel group or the Eritrean government. We have approached the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF), an Afari rebel group that claimed responsibility for the 2007 abduction of western tourists in the same region, and we've yet to hear from them whether they are behind this or not.

What is the background to the conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea?

Strictly speaking, it's about a very small village, right on the Eritrean-Ethiopian border called Badme, which both countries claim. They went to war over this small village in 1998. But it's really a fight between two relatives. Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Eritrea's President Isaias Afewerki are relatives, who once fought together in the trenches to oust the Mengistu regime, but who then fell out. And this is being played out daily with a very heavy exchange of words between Asmara and Addis Ababa.

Is there anything to suggest that this was aimed specifically at Germany? After all, two Germans were killed and two were kidnapped as far as we're aware.

No, I don't think it was aimed at Germany or Germans. The fact that we do indeed have quite a number of Germans involved in this incident simply stems from the fact that Ethiopia has become hugely popular among German travelers and sightseers interested in culture, and also increasingly adventure tourists. So, in any group of tourists in Ethiopia, you're very likely to find Germans. In fact, Germany has a very good reputation in Ethiopia. There are long-standing ties, both economic and cultural. So, I don't think this was aimed at Germany or Germans.

What can you tell us about the area in which the attack took place?

It's a very, very hot and arid place and sparsely populated. It's hauntingly beautiful and the site of a volcano. Remember, this is the place where the first hominid skeleton - the famous Lucy - was found at 3 million years of age. So, it's certainly a major tourist asset, but at the same time, it's desperately poor - even by Ethiopian standards and Ethiopia is a very poor country. There's very little infrastructure and banditry is rife. So, it's not the sort of place you would want to take your family for a shopping outing, especially now with tensions running high between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

Interview: Mark Caldwell
Editor: Susan Houlton / rm

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