Addis Ababa — An Ethiopian rebel group on Monday issued fresh warnings against a Canadian oil firm, urging the company to refrain from oil exploration activities in the country's eastern region.
In a statement extended to Sudan Tribune, the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) accused the Canadian-owned Africa Oil Corporation (AOC) of conspiring with the government to exploit the region's oil resources.
ONLF further said the Ogaden region is unsafe due to ongoing fighting and that the AOC must urgently halt its operations until the rebels reach a peace agreement with the central government.
"ONLF calls upon African Oil to desist from paying blood money to Ethiopia until a just settlement of the conflict is achieved and the people of Ogaden are in a position to be masters of their wealth and interest," said the statement.
However, an Ethiopian government spokesperson has downplayed the warning issued by the rebels, with communications minister Shimeles Kemal saying the area has long been secure and under the control of government forces.
Kemal said the region is safe for exploration companies, dismissing the warning as a desperate and predictable propaganda ploy by the few remnant leaders of the group.
In 2007, ONLF carried out an attack in the region on a Chinese-run oil venture that killed 74 people, including nine Chinese oil workers.
After the attacks, Ethiopian forces launched an assault against the terrorist designated rebel group.
In 2010, the Ethiopian government signed a peace accord with a major section of the ONLF group
Meanwhile, last October, Kenyan-led mediation talks between Ethiopia and a second ONLF faction failed after the splinter group refused to accept a precondition to respect the country's constitution
A third separate rival wing within the divided ONLF has since vowed to continue its armed struggle.
Ethiopia says the Ogaden region could have a potential 4 trillion cubic feet in gas reserves and hopes to become an oil-producing nation.
Currently there are a number of foreign oil companies engaged in oil exploration, but although there have been small findings of natural gas, there has never been a major oil discovery in the region.