Ethiopia Rebels Say They Have Seized Hilala Gas Field

Ogaden National Liberation Front, ONLF
Ogaden National Liberation Front, ONLF

By Jason McLure

May 30, 2010 (Bloomberg) — Ethiopian rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front said they have seized the Hilala gas field in Ethiopia’s eastern Somali region.

“Troops of the regime abandoned the field after being surrounded by our forces and determining their chances for survival were slim,” the ethnic Somali separatist group said in a statement e-mailed to reporters late yesterday. “Those troops were given safe passage out of Hilala fields.”

There were no casualties, the group said.

The government denied the attack on the field, which is Ethiopia’s most promising oil or gas find to date. “It is an absolute lie,” said Shimeles Kemal, a spokesman for the government, in a phone interview today in the capital, Addis Ababa. “They keep on fabricating rumors and unsubstantiated allegations to create an atmosphere of tension and terror. They don’t have any area under control.”

Malaysia’s Petroliam Nasional Bhd., also known as Petronas, paid $80 million for the rights to Hilala and the neighboring Calub field in 2007, the Reporter newspaper said in September of that year. The two fields are estimated to contain 4 trillion cubic feet of gas and are located about 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) southeast of the capital, the Addis Ababa-based newspaper said.

The rebel group said it welcomed a report earlier this year that Petronas had suspended work in the region.

“The field has been abandoned by Petronas a week ago,” said Abdurahman Mahdi, a spokesman for the group, speaking in a phone interview today from the U.K. “The army was still there so we decided to attack them.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Jason McLure in Addis Ababa at jmclure@bloomberg.net