Saturday, April 21, 2012

the scare (2)

Erta Ale is the place where a few months ago five tourists got killed, and two others, plus two Ethiopians, kidnapped (the tourists have been released a few weeks ago, no sign of the Ethiopians…). The perpetrators were, allegedly, a local movement that fights for more autonomy of the Afar region, likely supported by Eritrea trying to discredit Ethiopia ahead of the annual meeting of the African Union in Addis Abeba. Eritrea tries to do this every year, just before such meeting, through kidnappings, or bomb attacks, or anything, really.

Having seen the facilities around the crater, I think I now much better understand what happened. Just outside the crater rim, 15 minutes walk from the inner crater, are several stone huts and other enclosed areas, where people sleep after having been to the crater, and before heading back down at dawn. It is quite a chaotic place, huts everywhere, and especially when it is busy – there were 27 tourists than night, and they all have their own guides, plus mandatory local guides, a camel men, and the mandatory police escort – it is not particularly clear where everybody is. The attack on a group of tourists camping out here was quite likely aimed at getting some hostages, to attract international attention and to pressure the Ethiopian government into concessions. The attackers, anything between 20 and 30, from the various accounts, may not have acted with the utmost military precision, perhaps also not with the latest intelligence, when they zoomed in on the camp, searching for the foreigners. We met a local woman in Dodom earlier, who claimed to have been present that night, and told us that the rebels shot the five tourists point blank, because they refused to come with them. I find that hard to believe, from an organization that needs international support, or at least sympathy. And you don’t shoot five tourists in order to kidnap two. I think it is more likely that in the ensuing chaos, nobody knowing what was happening, shots were fired and the gun-toting police escorts panicked and started to shoot, or shoot back; in the cross fire a number of unfortunate tourists, lost in the dark, in an unfamiliar environment, got killed while trying to scurry away.
Of course, that would be an inconvenient truth. For starters, it would expose the incompetence of those police escorts. But it would also confirm the argument that if you arm the escorts, you in fact risk escalating the violence in case of an incident. Which is precisely what happened. But that would mean that you would be better off without a police escort, which would be a major economic blow to whoever is running the police escort business here.
You will never find out exactly what happened, and nobody will tell you.
(1) our entourage: a mandatory guide, a mandatory local guide, and two police escorts with guns; including our driver, who also came with us, and the two of us, that makes seven - you see how easily it gets busy, on the top

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