"NO FEAR FOR OIL COMPANIES"
"International companies have nothing to fear from coming to explore in Ethiopia," Bereket said. "Our forces weakened the ONLF after they attacked the Chinese company and they are no threat anymore. They were easily repelled."Addis Ababa says the ONLF are "terrorists" supported by regional rival Eritrea. The ONLF accuses the Ethiopian military of killing and gang-raping villagers and burning homes in the region as part of its effort to root out insurgents.
The Ethiopian and Somali governments say the ONLF are helping the Islamist al Shabaab group wage war against Somalia's U.N-backed government.The Ethiopian rebels deny they are allied with al Shabaab, who the United States says are al Qaeda's proxy in Africa. Ethiopia is a key U.S. supporter in the Horn of Africa.The regular accusations from both sides are impossible to verify. Journalists and aid groups cannot move freely in the area without government escorts.
The ONLF said its fighters had been "warmly welcomed" by residents in the seven towns and were giving treatment to civilians hurt in the fighting. Bereket said the attacks had not been in remote villages. The separatist cause has gained momentum due to a low level of development in the region. Until Chinese engineers arrived in 2007, the entire area had only 30 km (20 miles) of tarmac road in an area of about 200,000 sq km.