05/03/07 (B385-A) Les forces britanniques spéciales SAS, seraient en route vers le lieu du kindnapping de 5 touristes, selon The Guardian relayé par d’autres média (Le Figaro, AFP, …) (Info lectrice)

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Le Figaro / GB/Ethiopie: des forces spéciales en action ?

Des forces spéciales britanniques SAS sont prêtes à intervenir
pour libérer cinq Britanniques enlevés en Ethiopie, ont rapporté
plusieurs médias britanniques lundi. Ces soldats entraînés
à faire face à des prises d’otage se tiennent prêts pour
une intervention à Londres et deux hommes de cette unité d’élite
ont été envoyés sur place avec un rôle de liaison,
selon le quotidien The Guardian.

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The Guardian SAS team on standby for Ethiopia rescue bid

· Unverified sighting of Britons at army camp
· Identity of kidnappers still unknown, FO says

British special forces have flown to the remote area of Ethiopia where five
Britons were kidnapped, defence sources said yesterday. An SAS troop trained
in hostage rescue is on standby in Britain and two soldiers from the elite
unit, described as being in a “liaison” role, are already on the
ground. “They are looking at the ground in case they are needed,”
a senior defence official said yesterday.

The two women and three men were kidnapped when a gang overpowered their guards,
torched the guesthouse in which they were staying and set fire to their cars
on Thursday. All five are members of staff from the British embassy in Addis
Ababa, relatives of diplomats or officials from the Department for International
Development (DFID). Last night a spokesman for the Foreign Office said they
were working round the clock to secure the release of the hostages.

A 10-strong team from the Foreign Office arrived in Addis Ababa on Saturday
to assist local British embassy staff. Some were dispatched to Mekele, the
nearest large town to the site of the kidnapping, and others are expected
to arrive in the border area today.

An unverified report suggested a herder had spotted the Britons at an Eritrean
army camp on Saturday, 20km (12 miles) from the border between the countries,
suggesting that Eritrean soldiers were behind the kidnapping.

However, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Office in Addis Ababa said the kidnappers’
identity was still unknown. “Our investigations are moving forward but
we are still not sure who took them or where they are,” she said.

Relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea have been strained since the border
conflict that ended in 2000. There are still tens of thousands of troops on
either side of a UN-patrolled buffer zone. As part of a fierce propaganda
war, both countries routinely accuse the other of trying to spread instability.

The Britons, who were travelling with 13 Ethiopians, were touring the remote
Afar region. Questions have been raised about why the party chose to visit
an area considered to be so dangerous that the Ethiopian government requires
tourists to travel with armed guards.

But yesterday local tour operators said they were following a well-established
tourist path that was particularly popular with French, German and Italian
adventurers.

In Hamedela, the village where the Britons were abducted, more than 100 tourists
camped over Christmas and New Year, according to Tony Hickey, general manager
of Ethiopian Quadrants, a local tour operator. “Afar is no more dangerous
than the London underground was before the July bombings,” he said.

Most tourists to the region go on organised tours, but, being resident in
Ethiopia, the Britons already had vehicles and chose to arrange their own
trip.

They asked Mr Hickey, an expatriate Irishman who has lived in the country
on and off since 1973, to find them a cook, guide and tents. He also arranged
for the travel permit from the regional government. “I warned one of
the [British] men that the trip was going to be tough but he said that all
of them were fit and some had mountaineering experience.”

The party set off in two four-wheel drive vehicles from Addis Ababa on Friday
February 23, spending the night in Awash and then in the village of Serdo.
At Lake Afrera, known locally as the Great Salt Lake, they picked up two armed
policemen.

Before scaling Erta Ale, an active volcano that last erupted in 2005, they
picked up two more local militia and another guide. They returned to Hamedela
on Thursday and were due to return to Mekele the following morning, and then
back to the capital.

When the party failed to arrive in Mekele on Thursday night the hotel contacted
Mr Hickey. “They were complaining to me, asking why the guests had not
checked in. That’s when I realised that they were missing.”

According to eyewitness accounts the Britons and around a dozen Ethiopians
were woken at 2am by up to 50 men in military uniforms. They were marched
away in the direction of the Eritrean border. Their wallets and phones were
apparently left in the compound. The two cars were damaged by the kidnappers
to ensure that they were not followed.

Foreign Office minister Geoff Hoon yesterday described the situation as “grave”
but said every effort was being made to ensure the safe return of those kidnapped.