ADDIS ABABA, April 24: Scores of gunmen attacked a Chinese-run oil field in a remote area of Ethiopia on Tuesday killing 74 people, including nine Chinese, a government spokesman said.

Seven Chinese workers were also kidnapped in the attack which the government blamed on a separatist group, said Ethiopian prime minister's spokesman, Berekat Simon.

“It is a massacre. It is a terrorist act, ordered by a terrorist alliance that includes ONLF,” said Simon, referring to the Ogaden National Liberation Front.

Around 200 unidentified gunmen attacked the oil field in Somali state where China's Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau is searching for oil, according to a company manager quoted by China's official Xinhua news agency.

More than 100 soldiers protecting the field engaged the attackers in a fierce 50-minute gun battle, said the manager, Xu Shuang.

A spokesman for the Chinese embassy in Addis Ababa confirmed the attack but would give no further details. China has invested massively in oil exploration across Africa to feed its growing economy.

The Ethiopian government spokesman said some Ethiopians may also have been kidnapped during the assault on the oil field at Abole, a small town about 120 km (75 miles) from the Somali state capital of Jijiga.

The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) is a rebel group fighting for the independence of ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia's Ogaden region.

In April last year the group warned international oil firms that exploring for oil and natural gas in the region “for the benefit of the Ethiopian regime or any foreign firm will not be tolerated”.

The ONLF was formed in 1984. It states that the Ogaden people have been marginalised and brutalised by the Ethiopian government.—AFP

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