* Govt considers request to OK sale to Ethiopian-owned firm
* Peace deal to be signed on Tuesday with ONLF faction
By Barry Malone
ADDIS ABABA, Oct 11 Malaysian state oil company
Petronas has asked Ethiopia to approve an agreed deal to sell
all its oil and gas concessions in the country to a locally
owned firm, a senior government official said on Monday.
SouthWest Energy (H.K.) Ltd, an Ethiopian-owned company
registered in Hong Kong, said in a statement it had agreed to
buy all of Petronas's [PETR.UL] interests in the Horn of Africa
nation, where rebels threaten the exploration activities of
"Petronas wants to transfer its assets to SouthWest Energy,"
Ketsela Tadesse, head of licensing at the Ministry of Mines,
"When we receive all necessary documents, we will analyse
the request and decide whether the transfer is feasible before
making a final decision."
Officials at Petronas could not immediately be reached for
The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) is fighting for
independence for the mainly ethnic Somali Ogaden region and
regularly warns foreign oil and gas companies to stop exploring
there or face attacks.
Twelve foreign firms are exploring Ethiopia for oil and gas
deposits, though significant amounts have yet to be discovered.
The ONLF says SouthWest Energy is owned by a member of
Ethiopia's ruling party, which the company denies.
The confirmation comes after local reports that Petronas had
pulled out of Ethiopia after the May killing of a British
geologist subcontracted to the firm by IMC Geophysics
International. Nobody claimed responsibility.
Government spokespeople have this year admitted to
skirmishes with the ONLF, but Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has
since said the rebels had been crushed.
The government says it will on Tuesday sign a peace deal in
the capital Addis Ababa with a faction of the ONLF that
represents 80 percent of its fighters.
Spokespeople for another faction that has claimed
responsibility for all attacks over the past three years,
however, have denied that it is involved.
Ethiopian forces launched an assault against the ONLF, which
has been fighting for more than 20 years, after a 2007 attack on
an oil exploration field owned by a subsidiary of China's
Sinopec Corp (0386.HK) (600028.SS) (SNP.N).
Analysts say the rebels are incapable of ousting the
government but can hamper development and weaken security forces
in the Ogaden with hit-and-run attacks.
(Editing by Jane Baird)