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'Usual terrorist activity' blamed in Ethiopia tourist slayings

Gunmen killed five foreign tourists during "usual terrorist activity" in Ethiopia's remote northern Afar region, government officials said Tuesday.

German nationals were among the dead, a Western diplomat said.

State Ethiopian Television said eight tourists were attacked. Besides the five killed, two were severely wounded and were in critical condition at a health clinic. One tourist escaped unharmed.

"The group of foreign tourists was attacked by gunmen late on Mondayby members of a group that was trained and armed by the Eritrean government. It's the usual terrorist activity by the regime," Bereket Simon, Ethiopia's government spokesman, told Reuters.

There was no immediate comment from the Eritrean authorities. The Red Sea state often says Ethiopia "fabricates" lies to tarnish its image.

Afar is known to be a haunt of Ethiopian rebels who regularly cross over the border with Eritrea, Reuters reported. Eritrean rebels and bandits are also in the area at times, the news agency said.

ETV suggested that the attackers were rebels with ties to Ethiopia's archrival Eritrea, which hosts the exiled Oromo Liberation Front, a rebel group listed as a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian government.

A German Foreign Ministry spokesman said Berlin was working with the German embassy in Addis Ababa to clarify exactly what had happened.

The only foreigners who normally brave the inhospitable Afar are researchers, a few aid workers and adventure tourists visiting geographical wonders such as the Danakil Depression, one of the hottest places on earth with its ancient salt mines and volcanoes.

Ethiopia and Eritrea fought a 1998-2000 border war that killed some 70,000 people, and the dispute still festers.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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