Saturday, October 17, 2009

Ethiopian Rebel Defector Leads Government to Arms Store

Ethiopian rebel defector leads govt to arms store

Sat Oct 17, 2009 6:48pm GMT
By Barry Malone

ADDIS ABABA, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Ethiopia has seized more than four tonnes of explosives from Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels after a leader surrendered and led its military to an arms dump, the government said on Saturday.

State television displayed the explosives, which officials said could have been used to make 1,850 bombs, along with about 7,000 bullets.

"I can confirm the army has seized explosives and ammunition. They were taken from the Ogaden National Liberation Front rebels," Bereket Simon, Ethiopian government head of information, told Reuters.

The state broadcaster said Abdi Mohammed Awhasen was an ONLF commander who had surrendered after refusing an order to cooperate with Somalia's Islamist al Shabaab rebel group. He then led government troops to the ONLF arms dump, it said.

The ONLF wants independence for the Ogaden region whose population is ethnic Somali. It denies any links to the al Shabaab insurgents, who are waging a rebellion against Somalia's U.N.-backed government. Washington says al Shabaab is al Qaeda's proxy.

Ethiopian rebels accuse government forces of routinely killing civilians and burning villages in Ogaden, which borders Somalia.

The region is believed to contain mineral deposits and international oil and gas firms have been carrying out oil exploration in its fields. ONLF regularly warns foreign companies against prospecting there.

In 2007, the rebels attacked an oil exploration field owned by a subsidiary of Sinopec, China's biggest petrochemicals producer.

The separatist cause has gained momentum due to a low level of development. Until Chinese engineers arrived in the remote region in 2007, the entire area had only 30 km (20 miles) of tarmac road in an area of about 200,000 sq kms, a fifth of the country. (Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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