At least five people have been killed and several others wounded and kidnapped in an attack by gunmen on a group of European tourists in northern Ethiopia, according to officials.
The attack occurred early on Tuesday in Ethiopia’s northern Afar region, Bereket Simon, Ethiopia’s communications minister, told the Reuters news agency.
Simon said the attack occurred 20 to 25km (12 to 15 miles) from the Eritrean border and blamed “Eritrean-trained groups”, although Eritrea denied involvement.
Two Hungarians, two Germans and an Austrian were killed, according to a spokesperson for the Hungarian prime minister, citing information obtained from Interpol.
The spokesperson said two German tourists and two Ethiopians had been kidnapped. Simon said the kidnapped Ethiopians were a driver and a policeman.
Austria’s foreign ministry confirmed the death of one of its citizens, but Germany’s foreign ministry said it could not confirm the deaths or abductions of any of its citizens.
One Belgian person and a Briton living in Brussels were injured, according to a spokesperson for the Belgian foreign ministry.
The tour group also contained Italian tourists who escaped unharmed, according to the Hungarian spokesperson.
Ethiopian state television reported that there had been eight tourists in the targeted group, but Peter Launsky-Tiefenthal, an Austrian foreign ministry spokesperson said later that two groups totalling as many as 22 people may have been attacked, though he said the numbers were not confirmed.
Launsky-Tiefenthal said information about the attacks was hard to confirm because there were no working telephone lines and little infrastructure in the area.
Afar is a volcanic region lying below seas level which is known for its intense heat and picturesque salt flats.
Girma Asmerom, Eritrea’s ambassador to the African Union, said allegations of Eritrean involvement were an “absolute lie” and that the attack was an internal Ethiopian matter.
Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a border war from 1998 to 2000, claiming the lives of about 80,000 people.
Tensions between the neighboring East African countries rose again last year when a UN report claimed that Eritrea was behind a plot to attack an African Union summit in Ethiopia.
Five Europeans and 13 Ethiopians were abducted in Afar in 2007. Ethiopia accused Eritrea of masterminding those kidnappings, but Eritrea blamed an Ethiopian rebel group.
All of those hostages were released, though some of the Ethiopians were held for more than a month. In 2008, Ethiopia foiled a kidnapping attempt on a group of 28 French tourists in the area.