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Ethiopia Seeks Seized Chinese Oil Workers As Toll Rises

China's foreign ministry condemned the attack and called on the Ethiopian government to ensure the safety of Chinese workers.
by Staff Writers
Addis Ababa (AFP) Apr 25, 2007
Ethiopia searched for up to seven seized Chinese oil workers Wednesday after an attack on a Chinese-run oil venture which killed 77 people, according to a new toll.

Ethiopia sent an investigation team to the Ogaden oil prospection site in a remote eastern region, while a local leader added three more Ethiopians to the death toll, which includes nine Chinese.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front separatist group claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attack in a statement on its website in which it said it had completely destroyed the oil facility.

Up to seven Chinese workers were kidnapped in the dawn raid on the oil venture in Ethiopia's Ogaden region, where the ONLF is fighting for the independence of ethnic Somalis.

"Officials of the government are going there today, along with defense officials to assess the situation," said Berekat Simon, spokesman for Ethiopian Prime Minster Meles Zenawi.

"The government is committed to pursuing the perpetrators to bring them to justice," he added, making no comment about the abducted Chinese workers.

The president of Ethiopia's Somali region, which includes Ogaden, told AFP that 77 people had died in the rebel attack and confirmed that an investigation was underway.

"I can't go into details, but I can say that we are taking all measures necesary to capture the perpetrators," said Abdulahi Hassen.

A witness in the regional capital of Jijiga reported significant troop movements in the area.

China's foreign ministry condemned the attack and called on the Ethiopian government to ensure the safety of Chinese workers.

Ethiopia accused arch-foe Eritrea of supporting the rebels, a claim Eritrea immediately denied. It was the latest in a string of accusations and counter-accusations between the rival neighbours.

"Hand-in-glove with the Eritrean government, which hates to see Ethiopia's development, the terrorist forces in the region have acted out this horrendous act of terror," the Ethiopian information ministry said in a statement.

Somali regional president Hassen said witnesses had described the attackers as wearing Eritrean army uniforms.

"It was the Eritrean commandos and their international terrorist allies who were responsible for these inhumane acts on ordinary citizens. Their aim, like always, is sabotaging the country's economic facilities," he said.

Eritrea rejected the accusations, claiming Addis Ababa was seeking to trigger a war.

"The accusations are baseless," Eritrean Information Minister Ali Abdu said. "They want to create a pretext to take belligerent measures against Eritrea."

Ali said the ONLF was the result of a "failed Ethiopian racial policy" that had splintered Ethiopia into more than 30 rival ethnic groups.

"It is becoming clear that these kind of statements are intended to divert attention from Ethiopia's own domestic crisis," he said.

Addis Ababa regularly accuses Eritrea of backing Ethiopian separatist groups that have carried out a series of bombs attacks in Addis Ababa in recent years, and of attacking civilian positions in southern and eastern Ethiopia.

The two nations fought a bloody war from 1998 to 2000 over the demarcation of their frontier and remain bitterly at odds over the unresolved dispute.

Tuesday's raid was the first on an Ethiopian oil exploration site since the ONLF issued a threat to foreign companies operating in the region a year ago.

Hassen said four countries were involved in oil exploration in the region: China, Malaysia, Sweden and the United States.

"I don't think there will be negative effects on our relationships with the exploration corporations," he said. "This is a surprise attack and it does not happen regularly."

Source: Agence France-Presse

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