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Eritrea rejects blame for attack on tourists

20 January 2012, 11:19

Johannesburg - A deadly attack on European tourists along the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea has renewed a war of words between the two rivals, with Asmara rejecting accusations by Addis Ababa that it was behind the violence.

Gunmen killed five European tourists in Ethiopia's north-eastern Afar region near the border with Eritrea on Monday, and took four people as hostages.

The Ethiopian government has put the blame squarely on Eritrea, which it accused of supporting and directing the gunmen. It gave no evidence to support its claim.

"It is a false publication by Ethiopia, which always seeks to find something against Eritrea and portray a negative image of Eritrea," Saleh Omar, Eritrea's ambassador to South Africa, told dpa in an interview on Thursday. He added he was not surprised by the claim.

Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website: "It is already clear that the attack was carried out with the direct involvement of the Eritrean government." The statement added that Ethiopia would "take whatever action is necessary to stop the activities of the Eritrean regime once and for all".

Eritrea declared independence from Ethiopia in 1993 after years of conflict. The two East African countries have frequently traded jibes since 2000, when a two-year war that left more than 100 000 people dead ended.

The tourists killed on Monday were two Germans, two Hungarians and an Austrian. Two Germans and two Ethiopians were also kidnapped, according to the Ethiopian government. Several people were injured.

"I feel very sorry for those killed, including the two Germans," the Eritrean ambassador said.

Normalised relations

Eritrea's Foreign Ministry said Ethiopia's claims were "ludicrous" and alleged the attack was perpetrated by "home-grown internal opposition movements spawned by its [Ethiopia's] misguided policies".

The major point of contention is a lingering dispute over the demarcation of their shared border, with Eritrea charging that Ethiopia is occupying a piece of its territory.

In 2011, Ethiopia claimed Eritrea was behind an attempt to bomb an African Union (AU) summit in Addis Ababa, where the organisation is headquartered.

It made a similar claim against Eritrea after Monday's attack, accusing it of planning to derail an AU summit later this month.

"There is absolutely no intention by Eritrea to interrupt an AU summit. Why would we?" said Omar.

Asked about the prospect of lasting peace between the neighbours, the ambassador said Eritrea wanted "normalised and good relations" with Ethiopia, but the border issue should be resolved first.

"We have a no war, no peace situation," he said.

The scope of the rivalry goes beyond their borders. Western powers accuse Eritrea aiding Islamist insurgents al-Shabaab in Somalia, whose weak government is backed by Ethiopia. Eritrea denies the charge.


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