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Ethiopia’s Government in Peace Talks With Ogaden Rebels

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Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Ethiopia’s government is in peace talks with the Ogaden National Liberation Front, an outlawed ethnic-Somali rebel group, Communications Minister Bereket Simon said.

“It’s a very positive step and we will pursue negotiations up to the last and try to bring all concerned in that area to the constitutional framework,” Bereket said in a phone interview from the capital, Addis Ababa, today.

Principles to end the 28-year conflict in the Ogaden area of Ethiopia’s Somali regional state were agreed during initial talks on Sept. 6 and Sept. 7 in Nairobi, the rebel group said in an e-mailed statement today.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front has fought a low-level insurgency in the area with natural gas reserves of 4 trillion cubic feet since 1984, seeking greater autonomy. In April 2007, the group attacked a site operated by China’s Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau, killing nine Chinese workers and 65 Ethiopians.

An unspecified date has been agreed for more talks facilitated by the Kenyan government and attended by Ethiopia’s Minister of Defence Siraj Fergasa and ONLF Foreign Secretary Abdirahman Mahdi, the rebel group said.

The talks occurred after armed insurgents indicated they wanted to take the “peaceful avenue,” Bereket said. “It’s in this spirit that talks have started,” he said.

The government signed a peace deal with a faction of the group in October 2010, since when it has denied occasional claims of successful attacks on security forces by rebels.

An e-mail and phone calls to U.S. and U.K. numbers for Mahdi were not immediately answered.

To contact the reporter on this story: William Davison in Addis Ababa via Johannesburg at pmrichardson@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at asguazzin@bloomberg.net

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