March 30, 2007
Free the Ethiopian Captives
The idea is to collect lots of signatures and members, then approach international organisations and ask them to do all they can to bring about the release. At the very least, it will aim to keep the eight in the headlines.
It will also steer clear of politics. The committee is not blaming anyone for the kidnapping.
If anyone wants to join, they can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here is part of a story I wrote about the launch yesterday:
The eight Ethiopians were seized alongside five European travelers in the country's remote Afar region in the early hours of March 1.
The three Britons, one Italian and one French woman were released two weeks later after their governments led a diplomatic campaign to free them. But the Ethiopians – including two orphans from Ethiopia's 1984 'Live Aid' famine – remain in captivity.
Supporters on Thursday said they were forming a pressure group in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa to push for the release of the eight and to keep their case in the headlines.
"There was something unjust. There was a discrimination in who was released and who wasn't released," said Tony Hickey, a friend of two of the kidnapped Ethiopians at a press conference called to launch the pressure group. "That is what we have to address."
Founder members of the new 'Free the Ethiopian Captives Committee' also attacked the international media which, they said, had lost interest in the story after the release of the Europeans.
"Let's be honest. The reason interest has dropped off is because five European captives is sexy news. Eight kidnapped Ethiopians isn't,"said Mr Hickey, who is also the owner of the travel company that organised the Afar trip and employed two of the missing Ethiopians – tour guide Ashenafe Mekonen and cook Debash Baye. "It's just another African disaster story and people stop paying attention...It is a sort of racist issue."
Supporters said the committee would petition international bodies, from the UN to foreign governments, to keep up the public profile of the missing Ethiopians.
"We are not pointing the finger of blame," said Samson Teshome, another tour operator and committee member at the committee launch. "But before the release of the Europeans, all the media was shouting 24 hours a day. After the release of the Europeans we haven't heard very much.
"We want to tell the captives that we are still trying to get them back, that we are not going to sleep until we get them back. We want to call on the people who have them to release them."
Mystery still surrounds the kidnapping which took place in the Afar village of Hamed-Ila. Villagers said up to 50 men in military uniform took the Europeans from their beds along with their cook, guide and driver and a group of locals, and marched them towards the Eritrean border.
Ethiopia has repeatedly blamed its old enemy and neighbour Eritrea for orchestrating the kidnapping – a claim which Eritrea denies.
Before the Europeans were released, diplomatic sources said that a more likely explanation was that the group had been taken by a splinter group of Afar separatists.
The five Europeans are still recovering with their families and have not commented on their ordeal. The British Embassy in Addis Ababa today said it would not comment on who took the group or where they were kept "because of the ongoing sensitivities around the kidnapping".
Posted by aheavens at March 30, 2007 5:58 AM