By Barry Malone
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – An Ethiopian rebel group on Wednesday warned international oil companies against exploring in a region of the Horn of Africa nation where the rebels attacked a Chinese-run field in 2007 killing 74 people.
The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) — whose hundreds of fighters seek autonomy for the ethnically Somali Ogaden region — said oil firms had cleared some 1,600 square kilometers, displacing locals and destroying vegetation.
“Certain multinational oil corporations are intent on exploiting Ogaden fossil fuel resources in alliance with the current Ethiopian regime that is committing genocide and war crimes in Ogaden,” it said in an emailed statement.
“Besides destroying the livelihood of the rural population in the affected areas, these companies are filling the coffers of this regime and financing its criminal activities in occupied Ogaden.”
The group has in the past directly threatened Petronas, the Malaysian state-owned company, which is one of more than a dozen international explorers hunting for oil and gas in Ethiopia.
Cash-strapped Ethiopia is keen to attract foreign investors and denies the rebels are still a threat.
Ethiopian forces launched an assault against the rebels — who have been fighting for more than twenty years — after the 2007 attack on an exploration field owned by a subsidiary of Sinopec, China’s biggest refiner and petrochemicals producer.
Addis Ababa now says the ONLF has been defeated.
The rebel statement said any firm working in the region would be considered complicit in crimes by Ethiopia’s military.
“In order to accommodate these immoral and gluttonous rushes for oil in Ogaden, Ethiopia killed, raped and illegally detained thousands of Ogaden civilian and imposed economic and aid blockade at a time of when there was a full-blown drought in the Ogaden,” it said.
“ONLF has persistently warned these unscrupulous multinational companies and their governments … the ONLF has been left no alternative but to take all measures necessary to protect the inalienable rights of the Ogaden people.”
Ethiopian officials deny rights abuses in the Ogaden region, saying the rebels are the ones perpetrating crimes there on locals.
(Editing by Matthew Jones)