Addis Ababa (AFP) Apr 24, 2007
Scores of gunmen attacked a Chinese-run oil field in a remote area of Ethiopia on Tuesday, killing nine Chinese and 65 Ethiopians, in a raid claimed by a separatist rebel group. Seven Chinese workers were also kidnapped in the dawn attack by the Ogaden National Liberation Front, which is fighting for the independence of ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia's eastern Ogaden region.
The ONLF claimed responsibility in a statement on its website in which it said it had completely destroyed the oil facility.
"We urge all international oil companies to refrain from entering into agreements with the Ethiopian government as it is not in effective control of the Ogaden despite the claims it makes," the statement said.
In a separate email sent to AFP, the group said nearly 400 Ethiopian troops had been wounded or killed in the attack. It blamed "explosions caused by munitions during the battle for the deaths of a handful of Chinese oil workers".
The group said it was holding six Chinese workers, while Chinese and Ethiopian officials said seven Chinese were being held.
"They have been removed from the battlefield for their own safety and are being treated well," the ONLF said.
The group, formed in 1984, says that the Ogaden people have been marginalised and brutalised by Ethiopia.
The attack was the first on an Ethiopian oil field since the ONLF issued a threat to foreign companies operating in the eastern region one year ago.
Around 200 unidentified gunmen attacked the oil field in Somali state where China's Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau is searching for oil, according to a company manager quoted by China's official Xinhua news agency.
More than 100 soldiers protecting the field engaged the attackers in a fierce 50-minute gun battle, said the manager, Xu Shuang.
"It is a massacre. It is a terrorist act, ordered by a terrorist alliance that includes ONLF," said the Ethiopian prime minister's spokesman Berekat Simon.
In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said: "The Chinese government strongly condemns this atrocious armed attack," according to the official Xinhua news agency.
He added that Beijing had asked Ethiopia to take concrete and effective measures to ensure the safety of Chinese workers in the country.
Ethiopian Prime Minster Meles Zenawi also condemned the slayings.
"It is an outrage," he said at a news conference. "I can assure you that those responsible for this act will pay in full for what they did."
Ethiopia's federal police spokesman, Demsash Hailu, told AFP that his forces were fully investigating the situation.
A government spokesman said some Ethiopians may also have been kidnapped during the assault on the oil field at Abole, a small town about 120 kilometres (75 miles) from the Somali state capital of Jijiga.
Meanwhile, the Chinese oil company chartered a plane to collect the bodies of the nine dead workers, Xinhua said.
The ONLF in April last year warned all foreign firms against working in the Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia and specifically mentioned two Indian energy companies that had expressed interest in working there.
In May 2006, the ONLF claimed the government had deployed troops to the region ahead of a planned seismic survey by China's Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau and Malaysian oil giant Petronas.
Tuesday's attack echoed a spate of kidnappings in recent months that have plagued Chinese workers in Nigeria, where Beijing is also aggressively seeking to develop the nation's oil reserves.
Officials Visit African Nations, Discuss New Command With Leaders
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
U.S. officials from several government agencies met with African leaders in various nations and discussed U.S. reasons for setting up a command with responsibility for Africa, the organization of the command, possible mission areas, and the future location of the AFRICOM headquarters, said Ryan Henry, principal undersecretary of defense for policy.
"The message that we took to those who we consulted with was that we were entering into a dialogue," Henry said. "We found that that dialogue was generally positive, very cordial, with varying degrees of frankness, and we were able to answer questions and concerns."
Defense Department officials joined representatives from the State Department, the U.S. Agency for International Development, Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, and the AFRICOM transition team in their visits to Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya, Ethiopia, the African Union, Ghana and Senegal.
The Defense Department chose to have these consultation meetings before the command is established because AFRICOM will be like no other combatant command. It will be composed of members from several government agencies, and its primary function will be to support African nations and their indigenous leadership efforts, Henry said. The department plans several more trips like this to meet with other African nations and foster a continuing dialogue, he said.
"I think we have an understanding," Henry said of the results of the meetings. "We were not aware of any specific resistance to the idea. We do have a sensitivity, though, that AFRICOM will be better by conducting consultations such as this, getting the Africans' opinions, and (will) obviously be much more acceptable to the Africans."
AFRICOM, which President Bush announced Feb. 6, will stand up as a sub-unified command this fall and will reach full operational capacity by about September 2008, Henry said. The ultimate goal is to base AFRICOM headquarters somewhere in Africa, but no decisions have been made about its location yet, he said. However, he said, the commander of AFRICOM, who has yet to be named, will be based in Africa, probably even before the command becomes fully operational.
This trip gave the U.S. representatives a chance to clear up a few misconceptions about AFRICOM, Henry said. One, the creation of this command will not mean additional U.S. forces on the African continent or an increase in resources from the U.S. government. Henry noted that the U.S. already invests significantly in Africa, and AFRICOM's role will be to coordinate the Defense Department's efforts with the rest of the U.S. government.
The U.S. officials also assured the African leaders that the decisions about AFRICOM have not been finalized, and they are seeking input from African nations about how to proceed, Henry said. He also stressed that AFRICOM is not being stood up in response to Chinese presence on the continent or to secure natural resources, but solely to enhance counterterrorism efforts. "While some of these may be part of the formula, the reason AFRICOM is being stood up is (that) Africa is emerging on the world scene as a strategic player, and we need to deal with it as a continent," he said.
AFRICOM will have a different mission set than other combatant commands, focusing heavily on security cooperation and building partner capacity of African nations, Henry said. Military exercises will be conducted on the continent, but the command's role in kinetic operations has not been determined, he said.
"There is a mission for the military there," he said. "Sometimes, not very often, it is in the lead; normally, it will be supporting other elements of the U.S. government."
The exact make-up of AFRICOM headquarters has not been determined, Henry said, but more than half of the personnel will probably be from the Defense Department. He noted that creating a true interagency command will be a challenge for everyone; while other commands usually just have liaison officers from other governmental agencies, AFRICOM will have action officers from those agencies directly involved in running the command.
"This is not something we're used to doing," he said. "We are not used to putting our civilian forces forward as part of a unified command, so it will be a lot of learning on all parts of the U.S. government, and hopefully we'll be able to support each other."
earlier related report
The latest events in these two North African countries -- especially Algeria, where terrorist attacks are common -- would not have attracted so much attention from the mass media and, consequently, the international community, but for a number of specific features.
First of all is their quick succession. On March 11, a suicide bomber struck an Internet cafe in Casablanca, Morocco. On April 10, during a police raid in Casablanca three suicide bombers blew themselves up and another one was shot. The next day, suicide bombers carried out two big terrorist attacks in Algeria: near the government building in the center of Algiers and in the east of the city, targeting the headquarters of Interpol's local division and the barracks of a special police unit. Another terrorist attack in Algiers was foiled on April 12. On April 14, explosions were again heard in Casablanca, in the quarter where diplomatic missions are located.
At first, the Algerian and Moroccan authorities tried to deny that al-Qaida was involved. This is easy to understand: Any indication that the terrorist organization could become active in these countries would undermine their economic and political stability. Morocco would no longer be attractive for tourists, while foreign investment would be scared away from some industrial sectors in Algeria.
Nikolai Mokhov, an expert on Algeria, told RIA Novosti that high revenues from oil exports allow the country to spend large sums on infrastructure and construction, attracting foreign companies through tenders. This would stop if investors feared that Algeria might become another Iraq.
This, however, is a distant prospect. Yet given that Morocco and Algeria will soon hold parliamentary elections, the situation in these countries could really be destabilized, especially given sentiments among Muslim youth, who are upset about the policies of the West, particularly the United States, toward Iraq, Palestine and Iran and about globalization according to "the Western model."
Extremists often use these sore points to further their aims. It may be a matter of honor for terrorists to prove that the policies used by the Moroccan and, especially, Algerian authorities to fight radical Islam have failed, that neither the stick nor the carrot has helped. There might even be attempts to disrupt the domestic situation in Tunisia, although this is less likely.
It is no coincidence that the group that claimed responsibility for the attacks in Algeria calls itself the al-Qaida Group in the Maghreb, or AQM, which means that it is trying to spread its activities throughout the entire region. Until recently, it was called the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat.
Mokhov says it is well known that AQM has received financial and organizational support from al-Qaida since the late 1990s. Recently, information about it has been appearing on Web sites linked to al-Qaida, so it appears that the connection between the two groups, especially given that one of them has changed its name, has become official. Mokhov also points out that the terrorist attacks were carried out by suicide bombers, which is typical for al-Qaida, while Algerian Islamists, including AQM, had until recently used different tactics.
As to the attacks in Morocco, no one has claimed responsibility so far, but experts, including local ones, are positive that the events in both countries have the same root.
Yet another indication of al-Qaida's involvement is the fact that the recent attacks were connected to the figure 11, which has apparently become the group's trademark. On Sept. 11, 2001, it carried out attacks on the United States; on April 11, 2002, an attack near a synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba; and on March 11, 2004, the bombings on Madrid commuter trains.
Apparently, al-Qaida is using these attacks to stake its claim on North Africa and demonstrate the failure of both the local authorities' counter-terrorist policies and the international fight against terrorism. The terrorist base moved from Afghanistan to Iraq and could now move on to North Africa. Experts say that the latest attacks in Algeria and Morocco involved terrorists who had fought in Iraq. This is a challenge to the West, all the more so because the region has close ties with the European Union and NATO, including agreements on security cooperation.
Morocco has already announced its desire to set up a mechanism for counter-terrorist cooperation between the Maghreb countries. Yet given the tensions between Algeria and Morocco over Western Sahara, the two countries are unlikely to cooperate effectively in any sphere.
This means that other countries, especially those that have the potential to become the first targets of al-Qaida's Mediterranean division, must do what they can to ensure that calls for counter-terrorist cooperation are not just empty words and that measures to increase security are really taken.
Source: RIA Novosti
Source: Agence France-Presse
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Astana (RIA Novosti) Apr 25, 2007
Kazakhstan's government could join a proposed gas pipeline linking the energy-rich Caspian to Europe, bypassing Russia, if the project meets the country's economic interests, the premier said.
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