The Associated Press
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopian rebels said Thursday they killed 25 soldiers protecting a Chinese oil exploration company called PetroTrans.
It was not possible to verify the claims made by the rebels.
Shimeles Kemal, Ethiopia's government spokesman, denied the claims, saying they are "absolutely unfounded." He also said no PetroTrans operations had been affected by any attacks. Ethiopian authorities usually deny claims made by the Ogaden National Liberation Front, or ONLF, which is listed as a terrorist organization in Ethiopia.
The rebels said that 25 soldiers were killed and 'a few' members of the rebel ONLF during Tuesday's skirmish. Abdirahman Mahdi, a London-based spokesman for the group, had earlier said at least three soldiers were killed in the incident.
The soldiers they killed, "were dislodging farmers from their lands ... claiming that seismic lines pass through their farms. Three villagers from the area are missing," said Thursday's press release. Two other villagers had been beaten and left for dead, it said.
Human rights groups have long accused the Ethiopian government of committing atrocities in the Ogaden, which is largely closed off to outside observers.
The ethnic Somali Ogaden region is home to the ONLF, who have been fighting for self-determination for more than 25 years.
In April, 2007, the group attacked a Chinese-owned oil exploration field, killing nine Chinese workers and 65 Ethiopian workers. Thursday's press release contained a warning that there might be another such attack.
"The Chinese are wearing army camouflages and as such, it is very had to differentiate than from the Ethiopian army personnel," the email read. "It is the responsibility of civilians to be clearly distinct when traveling with combat military units in order to safeguard their rights."