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Five die in Ethiopia tourist attack

Five tourists have been killed and two kidnapped in an attack by an armed gang in a remote part of Ethiopia.

Another two tourists were injured in the raid on the party visiting a volcanic area in the country's north.

Ethiopian Communications Minister Bereket Simon said the gunmen came from neighbouring Eritrea and attacked the tourist group before dawn on Tuesday. Eritrea denied it was involved.

There was confusion over the casualties, and the size of their group which reports put at between eight to 20, but Interpol said two Germans, two Hungarians and an Austrian were killed. Two Belgians were seriously hurt and two Italians escaped unharmed.

The tourists were visiting a volcanic region in Ethiopia's Afar region, which lies below sea level and is known for its intense heat and picturesque salt flats.

They appeared to be travelling with Addis Ababa-based Green Land Tours and Travel. The company offers a 15-day travel package to the Afar region, which include visits to watch salt extraction from salt lakes and a trek around a volcano that spouts lava pools.

Mr Bereket said that "some groups trained and armed by the Eritrean government" attacked the tourists about 12 to 15 miles from the Eritrean border.

Eritrea's ambassador to the African Union, Girma Asmerom, said the claim was 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. Tension between the neighbouring East African countries rose last year when a UN report claimed that Eritrea was behind a plot to attack an African Union summit in Ethiopia.

In 2007, five Europeans and 13 Ethiopians were kidnapped in Afar. Ethiopia accused Eritrea of masterminding that kidnapping, but Eritrea blamed an Ethiopian rebel group. All the hostages were released, although 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.

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