Credits: All from AP - from left: Martin Mejia (Lima 2000), David de la Paz (Mexico City 1999), Jose Luis Magana (Mexico City 1998), Nasser Nasser (Ramallah 2002), Srdjan Ilic (Kosovo 1998) & Nasser Nasser (Ramallah 2000).
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Ethiopian rebels warn Indian firms against exploring oil in restive Ogaden region

NAIROBI, April 24, 2006 (AFP) - An Ethiopian insurgent group on Monday warned two Indian oil firms against exploring oil and natural gas in the country's southeastern region, saying they would not allow it.

"The ONLF (Ogaden National Liberation Front) wishes to make clear to Gail India Limited, the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation Limited and the Ethiopian government that so long as the Somali people of Ogaden are denied their basic rights to self-determination, the exploitation of natural resources in Ogaden for the benefit of the Ethiopian regime or any foreign firm will not be tolerated," the group said in a statement.

The ONLF is a rebel group fighting for the independence of ethnic Somalis living in the Ethiopia's Ogaden region.

Early April, GAIL India Limited said it had been shortlisted by Addis Ababa's mines and energy ministry to participate in the bidding process for exploration and development of the Calub and Hilala gas field in Ogaden onland basin.

"We wish to make clear to Gail India & GSPC that there is currently an armed conflict waging in Ogaden between Ethiopian troops and ONLF liberation forces resulting in an unsafe environment for any exploration to occur," ONLF said.

The group urged "all foreign firms with an interest in the Calub gas fields to cease and desist all engagement with the Ethiopian government in this regard and investigate for themselves the true political and security environment in Ogaden."

Ogaden, a dry belt that neighbours lawless Somalia, is believed to be lying on large quantities of gas, but further exploration is needed to verify the exact amount and develop the fields.

ONLF officials say the movement was formed in 1984 to fight on behalf of the Ogaden people, who have allegedly been marginalised and brutalised by the federal government, but Addis Ababa has repeatedly accused the insurgents of carrying out a wave of attacks on civilians.

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