Ethiopia 'blocking release of hostages'
Addis Ababa - Ethiopian rebels blamed Addis Ababa for "stifling" the release of two German tourists kidnapped in a gun fight three weeks ago, accusing government troops of attacks in Ethiopia's Afar region.
The Ethiopian government is "stifling every step of our efforts to get the two Germans to safe area... by launching a fresh attack against us", the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front (ARDUF) said in a statement late Wednesday.
Two Germans were seized in the bloody attack on the slopes of the famed Erta Ale volcano which left at least five people dead, including two Germans, two Austrians and one Hungarian.
Last month, ARDUF rebels said they were holding the missing Germans and supported their safe release, but warned that "any military engagement with ARDUF would... endanger the lives of the two German citizens."
On Wednesday, the rebel group said if the kidnapped tourists were killed in the violence, the Ethiopian government would be responsible for their deaths.
It claimed there had been repeated clashes between Ethiopian forces and ARDUF rebels since the January 18 attack.
"If these two remaining German [nationals] are killed in the fighting, Ethiopian regime will bear... responsibility for the killing," ARDUF said, adding it wanted to release the tourists over to tribal elders.
"ARDUF will do its best to release the two German citizens unconditionally, as soon as the Afar elders arrive to the designated area to receive them," the statement added.
Ethiopia has blamed arch-rival Eritrea for backing the ARDYUF rebels and claim the missing tourists are being held across the border in remote desert areas of Eritrea - claims Asmara have fiercely denied.
ARDUF has been fighting a low-level insurgency in the northern region near the tense Eritrean border to end what it says is "political marginalisation and economic deprivation" by Addis Ababa. The group claims to have no links to Eritrea.
In 2007, ARDUF rebels seized five European tourists and eight Ethiopians. The Europeans were released after 12 days to the Eritrean government, while the Ethiopians were freed almost two months later.