SHANGHAI, Apr. 25 -- Nine Chinese nationals were among the 74 workers killed yesterday in an attack on a Chinese-run oil field in eastern Ethiopia's Somali state, a company official said.
"Nine Chinese were killed, seven Chinese workers were kidnapped, and 65 locals working for the company were also killed," said Xu Shuang, general manager of the Zhongyuan Petroleum Exploration Bureau under the China Petroleum & Chemical Corp.
An Ethiopian rebel group claimed credit for the attack.
The Ogaden National Liberation Front said in a statement sent to The Associated Press that it had launched "military operations against units of the Ethiopian armed forces guarding an oil exploration site."
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao strongly condemned the attack.
The Chinese Embassy in Ethiopia said it had formed an emergency team, maintaining close contact with the Ethiopian government and military, according to Chinese interim Charge d'Affaires Zhang Yuebang.
About 200 gunmen launched the assault about 6am yesterday at the company's facilities, which are located in Abole, a small town about 120 kilometers from the Somali state capital, Jijiga, Xu said.
Somali state, also known as the Ogaden region, borders Somalia.
The gunmen briefly took control of the field, which employed 37 Chinese workers and more than 120 Ethiopian workers, after an exchange of gunfire with more than 100 soldiers who were protecting the facility, Xu said. The shootout lasted about 50 minutes.
An Ethiopian press official told Xinhua that Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has instructed the Ministry of National Defense to send immediate reinforcements to the area.
The Ogaden National Liberation Front issued a warning last year that any investment in the Ogaden area that also benefited the Ethiopian government "would not be tolerated."
The rebels have been waging a low-level insurgency with the aim of creating an independent state for ethnic Somalis. Somalia lost control of the region in a war in 1977.
Chinese oil workers have also been targeted in Nigeria by armed militants seeking a greater share of that country's oil wealth. Hostages are normally released unharmed after a ransom is paid.
In March, two Chinese workers were kidnapped in Nigeria. In January, nine Chinese oil workers were taken when gunmen stormed the government-owned Chinese National Petroleum Co office in Nigeria's state of Bayelsa.
In another incident in southern Nigeria's Rivers state the same month, five Chinese telecommunication workers were kidnapped and safely returned within two weeks.