By Habib Toumi
Manama: Saudi Arabia has warned Saudi citizens of the risks of travel to Ethiopia, citing sporadic clashes between Muslims and the police.
Saudi citizens should avoid going to the African country until the tension is eased and the situation is settled, the interior ministry said, local Arabic daily Okaz reported on Sunday.
The travel warning was issued based on a note from the Saudi ambassador in Addis Ababa, the statement said.
“In Ramadan, seven Saudis were arrested in different places as they were strolling in the suburbs of the capital or engaged — with good intentions — in charitable activities,” Abdul Baqi Ahmad Ajlan, the Saudi ambassador in Addis Ababa, said, quoted by the daily. “The embassy had to exert exceptional efforts to secure their release and repatriate them,” he said.
The embassy posted warnings at its building in the Ethiopian capital and sent short mobile messages to warn its nationals after it noted that the number of Saudi tourists increased dramatically.
The diplomat said they urged the Ethiopian foreign ministry to ask its embassy in Riyadh and consulate in Jeddah to provide Saudi citizens applying for visas to go to Ethiopia with guidelines and information about the local laws.
Applicants should be warned about attitudes and activities that are seemingly based on good intentions, but are deemed illegal in the African country. They include giving off donations and supporting charity foundations, he said.
“It would be similar to the instructions that the Saudi embassies provide to visa applicants so that visitors or people planning to perform Umrah or Haj [pilgrimage] are fully aware of the Saudi laws. That way, everybody knows for instance that a death sentence awaits anyone guilty of importing or trafficking in drugs,” the ambassador said.
According to Saudi officials, two of the seven Saudis arrested in July were distributing 20 cows in the Merkato area in Addis Ababa while a third was detained as he was bringing them their dinner. The fourth Saudi, married to an Ethiopian woman, was held while he was giving away donations to the needy in front of his house. The others were arrested as they distributed booklets promoting Islam, the Saudi officials said.
The Ethiopian authorities said they arrested the Saudi nationals on suspicion of financing terrorist activities in the country.
The arrests were made days after the Ethiopian police clashed with Muslims protesters who accused the state of interfering in their religion.
According to local media, “the protesters blocked the entrance of the Anwar Mosque in the west of the capital Addis Ababa and hurled stones at riot police who had surrounded the compound after noon prayers”.
The government said that it was “determined to prevent Islamic militancy and war mongering spilling over from neighbouring Sudan or lawless Somalia