China condemns Ethiopia oil field attack
ADDIS ABABA, April 25, 2007 (AP) – Ethiopian troops searched for a rebel group on Wednesday that attacked a Chinese-run oil exploration facility, killing 74 people and taking at least six Chinese workers prisoner, the first such attack against a foreign company in the Horn of Africa nation.
China also condemned the attack, which took place early Tuesday in Abole, a small town 310 miles east of Addis Ababa, close to the Somali border. Bereket Simone, special adviser to the prime minister, said a rescue operation was under way.
“The army is pursuing them. We will track them down dead or alive. We will make sure these people will be hunted and be brought to justice,” he said late Tuesday.
Tuesday’s attack by more than 200 rebel fighters lasted about an hour, and followed a warning the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front made last year against any investment in eastern Ethiopia’s Ogaden area.
In recent years, the front has only made occasional hit-and-run attacks against government troops, making Tuesday’s attack its most significant. Formed from Ethiopia’s minority Somalis, some members of the group have fought alongside insurgents in Somalia and have fought for the secession of the Ogaden region – an area the size of Britain with 4 million people – since the early 1990s.
The volatile Somali Regional State, as the Ogaden is known, “is not a safe environment for any oil exploration to occur. We urge all international oil companies to refrain from entering into agreements with the Ethiopian government,” the group said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
Xu Shuang, the general manager of Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau’s Ethiopia operation, said nine Chinese oil workers and 65 locals were killed and that seven Chinese workers were kidnapped. But the group said it is only holding six Chinese workers.
“ONLF forces rounding up Ethiopian military prisoners following the battle came across six Chinese workers. They have been removed from the battlefield for their own safety and are being treated well,” the group said in an e-mailed statement.
Ethiopia is not an oil-producing country. But companies such as the Chinese one and Malaysia’s state-owned oil giant Petronas have signed exploration deals.
“The Chinese government strongly condemns this atrocious armed attack, mourns for the Chinese and Ethiopian victims and expresses deep sympathies to their families and those injured in the attack,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said in a statement posted on the ministry’s Web site.
Liu said China had asked Ethiopia to work for the safe return of the kidnapped workers. He said the ministry, the Ministry of Commerce and the Chinese Embassy in Addis Ababa had formed an emergency team to deal with the incident.
Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau is a division of the giant state-owned China Petroleum and Chemical Corp. that began its operations in Ethiopia in May 2004, according to its Web site. It began work in the volatile Somali Regional State last year.
The Ogaden National Liberation Front described Tuesday’s attack as “military operations against units of the Ethiopian armed forces guarding an oil exploration site,” in the east of the country.
It did not give any details of casualties, but said they had “wiped out” three Ethiopian military units.
Bereket said the Ogaden National Liberation Front was also linked to the Eritrean government, which Ethiopia has repeatedly accused of waging terror attacks. Eritrea denies the claims.
The two countries fought a bloody border war that ended in 2000 and are accused of backing rival sides in the conflict in Somalia, where Ethiopian troops helped the government topple a militant Islamic group late last year and continue to battle remnants of the Islamic group and Somali warlords.