Ethiopia gunmen kill five foreign tourists in Afar

Camels carry salt in the Ethiopia's Afar region on 7 March 2007 The Afar region in which the attack took place is described as remote and inhospitable

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Five foreign tourists have been killed in Ethiopia in an attack by unknown gunmen in the northern Afar region, the government says.

German, Belgian, Italian and Hungarian nationals were among them, government official Bereket Simon said.

Two Europeans were also said to have been abducted in the attack, along with an Ethiopian policeman and a driver.

Eritrea has vehemently denied Ethiopian government accusations that it backed the gunmen involved.

The remote Afar region is regarded as a haunt of both Ethiopian and Eritrean rebels.

Ethiopia and Eritrea have been bitter adversaries since their 1998-2000 border war.

The tourists are believed to have been visiting a volcanic region in Afar - which correspondents describe as extremely hot and inhospitable - when they were attacked late on Monday.

Five Europeans were killed. Two were seriously hurt and a third is said to have escaped the attack unharmed, Ethiopian Television (ETV) reported.

The two injured tourists had been taken to a clinic by the military, it said.

'Taken over border'

The four people kidnapped were taken over the border to Eritrea, Mr Bereket said.

He blamed the attack on gunmen who he said were "trained and armed by the Eritrean government".

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"It is the usual terrorist activity by the regime," he told Reuters news agency.

But such allegations were an "absolute lie", Eritrea's ambassador to the African Union, Girma Asmerom, told Associated Press news agency.

Correspondents say that Ethiopia routinely accuses Eritrea of supporting rebels.

Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993 but the two countries soon became embroiled in border disputes.

In 2007, five Europeans and 13 Ethiopians were kidnapped in Afar. Ethiopia accused Eritrea of being behind that kidnapping, though Eritrea blamed Ethiopian rebels.

The hostages were all eventually released.

There is a danger that this incident could further fuel the animosity between two nations that are already bitter enemies, says the BBC's East Africa correspondent Will Ross.

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