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Ethiopian factor surfaces in Puntland oil dispute
GAROWE, Somalia Mar 23 2008 - The Ethiopian government's role in an ongoing political row between the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the Puntland regional administration has been raised, following a secretive meeting last week between Ethiopian and Puntland officials.
The meeting took place at State House in Garowe, the administrative capital of Puntland, inside sources said.
The Ethiopian government delegation was in Garowe on March 19, as Puntland lawmakers voted regarding a controversial oil law introduced by the government of President Adde Muse. [
Confidential sources in the port city of Bossaso, the heart of the Puntland economy, said the Ethiopian delegation of military officers spent Sunday night at a local hotel.
The exact nature of the closed-door meetings at the Garowe State House is not clear, but reliable sources told Garowe Online that the Ethiopian officials were traveling alongside a delegation from Africa Oil, a Canadian company contracted by the Muse government to explore for oil and minerals in Puntland.
Unconfirmed reports said Africa Oil and the Ethiopian government are working out security arrangements for future drilling plans in Puntland, which Africa Oil hopes to begin later this year.
According to the report, the Ethiopian army will be contracted as a security force in and around Africa Oil exploration sites inside Puntland.
But Puntland Petroleum and Minerals Minister Hassan "Allore" Osman rejected the reports, telling the BBC Somali Service during a Sunday interview that the Puntland government might hire nationals from Somalia's neighbors with expertise in the exploration field.
"Security [of drilling sites] will be left to the people of Puntland, or from other parts of Somalia," Minister Allore said.
He reiterated the Puntland administration's stance that the regional government has the legal right to manage its own resources, since the TFG does not currently control all of Somalia.
"Puntland began exploration activities before the Federal Government was established," said Allore, adding: "Puntland will function under its own laws."
He claimed that the government of Puntland has a memorandum signed by former Prime Minister Ali Mohamed Gedi, clearly stating that Puntland is "independent" for the exploration and production of its natural resources.
Last week, Somali Energy Minister Mohamud Ali Salah issued a press statement rejecting the Puntland oil law, which has stirred controversy within the regional parliament.
According to Minister Salah, only the federal government has the constitutional authority to manage natural resources in Somalia.
But Puntland Oil Minister Allore was critical of his federal counterpart, saying: "His [Salah] statement might damage the relationship between Puntland and the Federal Government."
Minister Allore defended the Puntland government's foreign partners, namely Africa Oil, which he said is a "big company."
"It [Africa Oil] is a Lundin Company," Minister Allore said, referring to a Sweden-based oil company which, in 2007, was awarded exploration rights in Ogaden, a Somali-inhabited region of Ethiopia.
In April 2007, Somali-speaking Ethiopian rebels attacked a Chinese-run oil field, killing 74 people, mostly Ethiopian soldiers.
The attack shocked the world, but rang alarm bells about the dangers of exploration in the Horn of Africa, a region mired in ethnic conflicts, perpetual droughts and political instability.
Source: Garowe Online