* Rebels in potential oil/gas region claim 34 attacks
* Government calls ONLF statement "outright lies"
By Barry Malone
ADDIS ABABA, Nov 9 An Ethiopian rebel group said
on Tuesday it had killed 267 soldiers since the beginning of
October, in its first such claim since the government signed a
peace deal with one its factions last month.
The Ethiopian government denied the claim.
The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) wants more
autonomy for the country's mainly ethnic-Somali Ogaden region
and has warned foreign companies exploring for oil and gas to
stay away or face attack.
Firms, including Petronas [PETR.UL] and Vancouver-based
Africa Oil Corporation (AOI.V), are working in the Ogaden.
Petronas has asked for government approval of a deal to sell all
its oil and gas concessions to locally-owned SouthWest Energy
Commercial amounts of oil and gas have not yet been
"The ONLF army is continuing its offensive against Ethiopian
Army troops in the Ogaden," the faction led by former Somali
navy chief Admiral Mohamed Omar Osman said in a statement,
detailing dates and places of attack.
"During the months of October and the beginning of November
it has conducted 34 tactical and strategic military operations,
killing 267 Ethiopian Army soldiers and wounding 157."
Ethiopian government spokesman, Shimeles Kemal, described
the statement as "the usual outright lies."
Regular claims of attacks from the rebels and denials from
the government are hard to verify as journalists cannot travel
in the region without government escorts.
The Ethiopian government signed a peace deal last month with
an ONLF faction led by Selahadin Mao that claims to represent 80
percent of the group's fighters.
The Osman group claimed responsibility for a 2007 attack on
an oil exploration field owned by a subsidiary of China's
Sinopec Corp (0386.HK) that killed 65 Ethiopian soldiers and
nine Chinese oil workers.
Analysts say the rebels have been weakened since 2007 and,
while not capable of ousting the government, can frustrate
development with hit-and-run attacks.
(Editing by George Obulutsa and Ralph Boulton)