Two groups of tourists, including at least seven French nationals and five Britons, were believed to have been kidnapped in a remote, inhospitable area of the Horn of Africa nation.
''They were taken to Wema district of Asab Province in Eritrea.
This has been confirmed by two Ethiopians of Afar origin who have been left behind,'' Ismael Ali Sero, the head of the Afar administrative region, told Reuters by telephone.
''We have confirmation that the commandos came from Arat military training camp inside Eritrea. They torched four vehicles and two homes before they left with the group.'' Britain sent a six-strong team of senior Foreign Office officials to Ethiopia to step up diplomatic efforts to free the foreigners.
The head of the tour company that organised the trip for the seven French tourists said earlier today the French were safe. But a French diplomat was unable to confirm the report, saying Paris had not yet made direct contact with them.
British officials said five of those missing were staff from the embassy in Addis Ababa or relatives of members of staff.
Officials said the team sent to Addis Ababa early today had arrived to help diplomats at the British embassy.
A small delegation of embassy staff has already flown to the city of Mekele in the north of the country, which has the closest airport to the area where the Westerners went missing, expatriate sources said.
Foreign Office officials in London declined to say whether hostage negotiators were among the team sent to Ethiopia.
Tour companies said the groups disappeared while visiting the northeast Afar region, considered one of the world's most hostile terrains. The missing Ethiopians were people from the Afar region and were working as drivers and translators.
Afar, one of Ethiopia's poorest regions, was also the site of a low-level rebellion against the government in the 1990s by separatists calling for an Afar state on territory straddling Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.
REUTERS SY MIR RAI2057