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Ethiopian rebels warn Canadian firm against exploring oil in the country's east

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ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - Ethiopian rebels on Monday warned a Canadian oil company against oil exploration in the country's east, saying the area is unsafe because of fighting.

Africa Oil Corp. (TSXV:AOI) should halt all operations until the rebels make peace with the government, the Ogaden National Liberation Front, or ONLF, said. The group is blamed for the 2007 attack on a Chinese-run oil field in the region in which scores were killed.

The rebels said in a statement that the company, which has its head office in Vancouver, is "conspiring with the government to exploit the region's oil."

"ONLF calls upon African Oil to desist from paying blood money to Ethiopia until a just settlement of the conflict is achieved and the people of the Ogaden are in a position to be masters of their wealth and interest," the statement said.

The Ethiopian government spokesman played down the statement, saying the region is peaceful and that the rebels don't pose any real threat.

"The region is now fully stable and peaceful. The government and people are mobilizing together to develop the region," said Communications Minister Shimeles Kemal.

Various ONLF factions have in the near past requested and subsequently negotiated with the government after which they have put down their arms and re-joined the people to lead a peaceful life, Shimeles said.

"They have completely lost that capacity as most of their fighters have put down their arms. Now the remaining faction's leaders are engaged in a routine propaganda to disturb the ongoing development activities," he said.

Africa Oil Corp. said on its website that it has three projects in Ethiopia including in the Ogaden Basin where ONLF has been fighting the Addis Ababa government.

Telephone calls and emails to the Vancouver-based company were not returned as of Monday afternoon.

A statement from International Trade Minister Ed Fast said Canada supports a peaceful resolution of the situation in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.

"Our government takes seriously any threat to Canadian companies and their employees operating abroad," the statement said.

The rebels want to create an independent state in the Ogaden region, which is inhabited by mostly ethnic Somalis. Peace talks between ONLF and Ethiopians government in neighbouring Kenya ended in disagreement in October.

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