- Somali rebels in Ethiopia's troubled eastern Ogaden province have warned the Swedish oil company Lundin Petroleum, which signed a large-scale exploration deal with Addis Ababa last week. The Swedes were engaging in a war zone, the rebels noted, adding that oil exploration activities at the current stage were "both unrealistic and unwelcome."
In a message to chairman Ian Lundin of the Swedish oil company - of which afrol News has received a copy - the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) warns against any oil deals in the troubled Ogaden province of Ethiopia. The ONLF fights for autonomy or inclusion into Somalia for the Ogaden region, which is dominated by ethnic Somalis and only became Ethiopian in the 20th century.
Somalia and Ethiopia have fought several wars over Ogaden and the Somali Islamist currently ruling in Mogadishu want to include the province in a Greater Somalia. The province now experiences a low-profile armed conflict between the Mogadishu-supported ONFL and the Ethiopian army, with occasional ONLF sabotage of infrastructure and Ethiopian mass arrests of alleged rebel supporters.
The Ogaden province is also Ethiopia's most promising region regarding mineral resources, and international oil companies are highly optimistic on finding commercially exploitable reservoirs of hydrocarbons here. Ethiopia is predicted to become an oil exporting nation within short, basing most of its hopes on Ogaden.
Only one week ago, the Stockholm-based oil company Lundin and the Addis Ababa government heralded a wide-ranging production sharing contract for two blocks in the onshore Ogaden Basin, spanning over 24,000 square kilometres. Lundin said it held a 100 percent share at Blocks 2 and 6 for the duration of the exploration period, while the Ethiopian government had an option to participate with up to a 10 percent interest following any commercial discovery. Lundin pointed to "documented" indications of light oil, gas and condensate at the two blocks.
One week after the optimistic notions released by the Swedes, however, the ONLF insists on cooling down the euphoria. "While you may have been given security guarantees by the Ethiopian government it is imperative that you understand that the regime is not now nor has it ever been in effective control of the Ogaden," the rebels told Mr Lundin.
According to the rebels, the ongoing armed conflict in Ogaden "makes for an insecure environment for any mineral exploration to occur," as clashes between the ONLF and Ethiopian armed forces occur "on a regular basis throughout Ogaden."
"The areas covered by the Production Sharing Contract signed between you and the Ethiopian regime are well within our scope of military operations and as such the security of your operations cannot be guaranteed," the ONLF statement says. "We therefore strongly advise you against this planned investment given the current conflict which exists between our troops and those of the Ethiopian regime."
The Ogaden rebels claim that they have been in contact with several other oil companies that previously had been interested in signing a similar contract with Addis Ababa authorities, and had managed to convince them against such a deal due to security problems. Petronas of Malaysia, Gail and the Gujarat State Petroleum Corporation of India among others earlier had "expressed a similar interest in Ogaden," the rebels say.
In a more reconciling tone, the ONLF letter to Mr Lundin emphasises that the Ogaden rebels "have no dispute with Lundin Petroleum." However, the ONLF as a matter of policy could "not permit the exploitation of mineral resources in Ogaden until such time that a legitimate form of self-government exists in Ogaden," the statement says, indicating Lundin's investments and installations could become the aim of ONLF attacks.
While both Lundin Petroleum and the ONLF emphasise on the special role of the Swedish oil company in Ogaden following last week's production sharing contract, Ethiopian Mines and Energy Minister Alemayehu Tegenu in a statement late last week held that a total of five international companies were by now engaged in petroleum exploration and development activities in the country. He in particular mentioned Malaysia-based Pexco as a company operating in Ogaden, while not mentioning Lundin.
According to Minister Tegenu, negotiations were in progress between the Ethiopian government and Petronas, another Malaysian company, for the development of Kalub and Hilala natural gas deposits in Ogaden, where also Lundin is operating. Other official Ethiopian sources last week claimed Petronas had already won a bid for the development of Kalub and Hilala.
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