Britain has expressed "deep concern" over the fate of five people linked to its embassy in Ethiopia who were apparently kidnapped last week.

In a statement Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett says she hopes those holding the five will release them safely so they can rejoin their families and friends.

The five-member embassy group disappeared in Ethiopia's northeastern Afar region last Thursday, along with at least eight Ethiopian drivers and translators.

The Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) has repeated government claims that Eritrean gunmen kidnapped the group - a charge Eritrea has denied.

On Wednesday, British diplomatic sources said they believe rebels from Afar are behind the kidnapping.

Afar is a remote and barren region near Ethiopia's borders with Eritrea and Djibouti.

British newspapers have reported that British special forces are in the region to prepare for a possible rescue operation. British officials have refused to comment on those reports.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.