March 21, 2007 / 2:33 PM / in 12 years

Ethiopia rebels threaten to kidnap more foreigners

(Adds Ethiopian reaction)

By Jack Kimball

NAIROBI, March 21 (Reuters) - Rebels from northern Ethiopia who claimed responsibility for abducting five Europeans this month said they would seize any foreigner who may venture into their remote region, the Eritrean government said on Wednesday.

The Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF), which seeks greater autonomy for the barren Afar region straddling Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti, said foreigners must seek its permission to travel or risk abduction.

"Even now, it would take similar measures against any foreigner who ventures into the same area," Eritrea’s Ministry of Information said in a statement on its Web site, quoting ARDUF chairman Mussa Ibrahim who was in Asmara this week.

"In this regard, he warned foreigners not to do so without permission from the Front," added the site www.shabait.com.

The five Europeans were freed last week in the Eritrean capital after a 12-day ordeal, but there has been no word on the fate of eight Ethiopians travelling with them.

Ethiopia accuses Eritrea of masterminding the abductions as part of its "terrorist" activities in the region.

"The kidnapping was carried out by no one but the Eritrean military intelligence. This is an incontrovertible fact," said Foreign Affairs spokesman Ambassador Solomon Abede.

"The government of Eritrea is trying to insult the intelligence of the international community. Everybody knows that the Eritrean government has developed the habit of creating organisations working against its neighbours."

Asmara says Addis Ababa is using the case as "a public relations stunt."

Tensions between the two Horn of Africa neighbours have been high since a 1998-2000 border war that killed more than 70,000. (Additional reporting by Tsegaye Tadesse in Addis Ababa)



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