China’s embassy in Ethiopia on Tuesday confirmed that gunmen had launched an attack on a Chinese oil company’s premises in southern Ethiopia, killing 65 Ethiopians and 9 Chinese workers, while kidnapping seven others, said Xu Shuang, acting manager of the company. ll the victims were employees of the Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau belonging to the China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation.
Later in the day, rebel group Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying they had targeted Ethiopian soldiers on guard around the perimeter.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said, "The Chinese government strongly condemns this atrocious armed attack, mourns for the Chinese and Ethiopian victims and expresses deep sympathies to their families and those injured in the attack."
He stated that China had asked Ethiopia to take all possible measures to ensure the security of Chinese agencies in the country whilst pledging full help in resolving the attack.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi reacted immediately, dispatching infantry and helicopter reinforcements to the area.
The attack began around 6 AM local time on Tuesday with 200 gunmen making a surprise attack on the company, located at Abole, around 120 km away from Jijiga, Xu revealed.
A ferocious gun-battle ensued for 50 minutes but the guards were outnumbered and the gunmen seized control of the facility, capturing 37 Chinese and 120 Ethiopian employees.
Ethiopian troops invested the premises following the gunmen’s retreat and flew the bodies to the state capital Jijiga. Their Chinese company has already chartered a plane to bring back the bodies of the nine Chinese workers.
The ONLF’s roots stretch back to 1984, they operate mainly in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia’s Somali State, bordering neighboring Somalia. They began violent acts against the Ethiopian government in the early 1990s, seeking independence for Ogaden.
(Xinhua News Agency April 25, 2007)