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Ethiopian Rebel Group Denies Support From Eritrea


An Ethiopian separatist group, which has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's bloody attack on a Chinese-run oil field, is denying allegations by Addis Ababa that arch rival Eritrea is supporting the rebels in their bid to destabilize Ethiopia. VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu in our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi has this report.

Condemning what the Ethiopian government called a terrorist attack, Addis Ababa says the rebels of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, known by the initials ONLF, worked side-by-side with Eritrea in carrying out Tuesday's raid on a remote oil field in eastern Ethiopia's ethnically-Somali Ogaden region.

Ethiopia says neighboring Eritrea is using the ONLF to start a proxy war to destroy Ethiopia's economy. The two nations have been bitter enemies since they fought an unresolved border war nearly a decade ago.

A member of parliament in Somalia's Ethiopian-backed transitional government, Awad Mohamed Ashureh, says his government is also deeply concerned about what it also believes are deliberate efforts by Eritrea to create trouble for Ethiopia.

The governments of Somalia, Ethiopia, and the United States have accused Eritrea of providing weapons and training to radical Islamists in Somalia, who are among hundreds of insurgents currently battling Ethiopian troops in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

"We were trying to have negotiations between the ONLF and the government of Ethiopia. Now, it seems that Eritreans are igniting the situation by supporting dissidents and the opposition in Ethiopia. This will have an impact on the whole Horn of Africa," Ashureh says.

In a telephone interview with VOA, ONLF's vice chairman, Abdul Khadir Hassan, dismissed allegations that Eritrea is providing his group with weapons and other supplies.

The rebel leader said that the ONLF has no problem obtaining guns at any time from a wide variety of people and groups throughout the region - even from the Ethiopian army.

"Everywhere, you can get arms. There is weapon in Somalia, Ethiopia, even Ethiopian soldiers, they give us. There is corruption inside the Ethiopian army," Hassan says.

Officials in Asmara also denied that Eritrea is aiding the separatist ONLF They accuse Addis Ababa of using Eritrea as a scapegoat for its inability to settle disputes with Ethiopia's numerous ethnic groups.

Nine Chinese oil workers and at least 65 Ethiopians were reportedly killed during the hour-long gun battle Tuesday, which the ONLF described as a military operation against Ethiopian troops guarding the oil facility.

Chinese and Ethiopian officials say seven Chinese workers were also abducted. But the ONLF says it is holding six workers and they are being treated well.

The ONLF was formed in 1984 to fight what it calls the marginalization and brutalization of ethnic Somalis by the Ethiopian government. About a year ago, the separatist group warned foreign oil companies not to make deals with the Ethiopian government because Addis Ababa did not have any authority in the Ogaden region.