(Updates with government spokesman correcting nationalities of those killed in second paragraph.)
Jan. 18 (Bloomberg) -- 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.”
Two Germans, two Hungarians and an Austrian were killed, while an Italian and a Hungarian were injured, 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. Two German tourists and two Ethiopians were kidnapped in the incident, he said.
“The terrorist group from Eritrea crossed the border and attacked, killing five,” Bereket said. “The perpetrators have gone back to Eritrea.” Earlier, he said those killed included a German, a Belgian, a Hungarian, an Italian and an Austrian.
Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a border war from 1998 to 2000 that killed 70,000 people, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. The border dispute that caused the war has not been resolved and troops from both sides are still a heavy presence on parts of the divide.
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.
“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.”
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.
Two unidentified foreigners were injured in yesterday’s attack, while an Ethiopian policemen and an Ethiopian driver were abducted, Bereket said in a mobile text message today.
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,” Bereket 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.”
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