ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – Ethiopian rebels who have fought alongside Islamic militants in neighboring Somalia stormed a Chinese-run oil field at dawn Tuesday, killing 74 people and destroying the exploration facility in a restive border region.
It was the first such attack on a foreign company in this Horn of Africa nation, in contrast to Nigeria on the western side of the continent, where rebel groups frequently attack international oil concerns.
Chinese officials said nine Chinese oil workers and 65 Ethiopians died and seven Chinese were taken away by the rebels. It wasn’t known if the rebels suffered any casualties.
The assault by more than 200 gunmen lasted nearly an hour and followed a warning last year from the rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front against any investment in eastern Ethiopia’s Ogaden area that could benefit the U.S.-allied government.
Formed by Ethiopia’s ethnic Somali minority, the Muslim group has been fighting for secession of the Britain-sized region with 4 million inhabitants since the early 1990s, but it had mounted only occasional hit-and-run attacks on government troops in recent years.
The large scale of the attack at the small town of Abole, close to the Somali border, raised the prospect of a broadening of the fighting in Somalia, where the Ethiopian army is supporting the U.N.-backed interim Somali government in a war with Islamic insurgents.
“This was a cold-blooded killing,” said Bereket Simon, a special adviser to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.