Story highlights

Two were part of a tour group attacked in mid-January, German Foreign Ministry says

They're now in German custody

They were hiking near Ethiopia's Erta Ale Volcano when rebels fired, killing 5 other travelers

CNN —  

Ethiopian rebels have released two German hostages who were part of a tour group attacked during a bloody gunbattle in Ethiopia’s restive Danakil Desert in mid-January, according to the German Foreign Ministry.

The tourists are now in German custody. They were hiking near the region’s Erta Ale Volcano when rebels opened fire, killing five other travelers.

Reports from the rebels, identified as the Afar Revolutionary Democratic Unity Front, indicated the two tourists had been released as early as Tuesday, but German authorities did not confirm those accounts until Friday. It is not clear what day the travelers were freed.

During the initial attack, 12 people were rescued by helicopter from the site, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in January. Authorities at the time confirmed that one Austrian tourist and two people from Germany were among the victims.

“What may have been the case is there were two groups in the region, more or less at the same time having planned to climb up the volcano in this border area … and I think that’s when they got surprised by the attackers,” said Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, a spokesman for the Austrian Foreign Ministry.

Austria has had a travel warning in place for this region since 2007, he added. There have been several attacks against Austrian tourists there over the past several years, he said.

The rebels have long pushed for greater independence in the region.