- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethnic Somali rebels in Ethiopia’s eastern Ogaden region stormed a Chinese-run oil field near the border with Somalia yesterday, killing 65 Ethiopians and nine Chinese workers in the dawn raid.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front, an ethnic Somali group created in the 1980s in the wake of Ethiopian communist leader Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam’s victory against Somalia, currently is reported fighting alongside Islamist insurgents in Somalia.

In yesterday’s attack, the front also kidnapped seven Chinese workers, said Bereket Simon, an adviser to the Ethiopian prime minister.

“This was a coldblooded killing,” Mr. Bereket said. “This was organized.”

In a statement sent to the Associated Press, the rebel group said it had started “military operations against units of the Ethiopian armed forces guarding an oil exploration site,” in the east of the country. It also warned international oil companies not to operate in the region. Without offering details, the statement said rebels “wiped out” three Ethiopian military units and destroyed the facility.

China’s official Xinhua news agency said 200 gunmen were involved in the attack and identified the Chinese workers and Ethiopian guards as employees of the Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau, a division of China Petroleum & Chemical Corp., a huge state-run oil company better known as Sinopec.

Xu Shuang, the general manager of Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau, based in Addis Ababa, said nine of its Chinese oil workers were killed, seven Chinese workers were kidnapped and 65 Ethiopians were killed in the fighting.

The Chinese company began working in Ethiopia’s volatile Somali Regional State last year.

The attack took place early yesterday morning in Abole, a small town 75 miles away from the regional capital, Jijiga, close to the Somali border. Mr. Bereket said several Ethiopian troops were wounded in the gunbattle in the area.

He said the group was also linked to the Eritrean government, which Ethiopia has repeatedly accused of waging terrorist attacks. Eritrea denies the claims. Both countries, which fought a border war that ended in 2000, are accused of backing rival sides in the Somali conflict.

China has increased its presence in Africa in recent years in a hunt for oil and other natural resources to feed its rapidly growing economy. Its forays into areas considered politically unstable, however, have exposed Chinese workers to attacks.

The front issued a warning last year that any investment in the Ogaden area that also benefited the Ethiopian government “would not be tolerated.”

The group has been waging a low-level insurgency with the aim of creating an independent state for ethnic Somalis. Somalia lost control of the region, the size of Britain and home to about 4 million people, in a war in 1977.

The rebel group also has been fighting Ethiopian troops inside Somalia, where Ethiopia has been backing the government in crushing an Islamic movement and re-establishing control over the country.

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