30/12/07 (B428) AFP : les rebelles éthiopiens de l’Ogaden (ONLF) démentent avoir subi de lourdes pertes. Ethiopia rebels deny suffering major losses. (En Anglais – Info lectrice)

Ethiopia’s Ogaden rebels on Saturday denied claims they had suffered heavy losses at the hands of the government forces.

On Friday, the Ethiopian army said it had "annihilated the remnants of the Ogaden National Liberation Front [ONLF] that were engaged in disrupting the peace and stability of the Somali region".

But in a statement received by Agence France-Press in Nairobi, the ONLF described the claim as "wishful thinking".

"ONLF forces are largely intact, operational and continue to be effective," it said in a statement.

Formed in 1984, the ONLF is fighting for the independence of ethnic Somalis in the Ogaden, whom they say have been marginalised by Addis Ababa.

If the regime "has inflicted significant losses on our forces, it has no reason to continue to deny international journalists access to Ogaden to verify their claims", the ONLF statement added.

Both sides have been claiming an upper hand over the past eight months but none of the claims have been independently verified as journalists and aid workers have been blocked from vast swathes of the region.

The army launched a crackdown in the region after ONLF rebels attacked a Chinese oil venture in April that left 77 people killed.

The barren Ogaden region has long been extremely poor, but discovery of gas and oil brought new hopes and have fuelled the conflict. — AFP