Sunday, April 29, 2007

Red Cross: 7 Chinese, 2 other oil workers captured in eastern Ethiopia have been released.

Seven Chinese oil workers and two African civilians were released Sunday by an Ethiopian rebel group that attacked a Chinese oil exploration facility last week, a Red Cross spokesman said.

Patrick Megevand, spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ethiopia, said the men were released at 2:30 p.m., but declined to provide any other details.

"They've been handed over to the ICRC," he said. The Red Cross was still in the process of transporting the men to a safe location to be turned over the Ethiopian and Chinese authorities, he added.

Officials at the Chinese embassy to Ethiopia said they could not provide any immediate information on the report. Ethiopian officials did not answer repeated phone calls.

The rebel group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front, said last week that the group's leaders were in contact with the Red Cross to negotiate a handover of the workers. Rebel leaders were not immediately available for comment and usually provide statements by e-mail.

The front claimed responsibility for an attack on the Chinese-owned oil exploration field in eastern Ethiopia on April 24, killing 65 Ethiopians and nine Chinese. The group said in a statement that six other Chinese workers "were removed from the battlefield for their own safety." Ethiopian and Chinese officials said seven Chinese workers were missing and there was no immediate explanation for the difference in numbers.

The ONLF said it would resume fighting after the Chinese workers were transferred to the Red Cross.

The rebels said again that no foreign company should try to work in the Ogaden region, a large state along the Somali border. The group says it is fighting for the region's right to self-determination.

The Chinese government has condemned Tuesday's attack and rejected the group's warning.



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