ADDIS ABABA (AFP) — Ethiopian officers on Friday claimed their forces had killed some 100 rebels in the Ogaden region over the past month where its forces are cracking down on insurgents, state media reported.
Government troops had also captured hundreds of rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) fighters, state-owned Ethiopian television reported.
They had been regrouping in the Lander area of southeast Ogaden. The army operation started on October 17.
"Around 100 terrorists from the ONLF have been killed after regrouping in the Lander area," the television quoted Colonel Gebregziabher Beyene, an army field commander as saying.
"Several hundred others, including seven top leaders and two Eritreans, were captured," he said, explaining that small arms, RPG launchers and explosives were recovered.
The ONLF claim to have killed at least 660 government troops since October.
Neither the claims by the army nor the rebels have been independently verified.
The army has stopped journalists and aid workers from entering the region, which borders lawless Somalia.
The Ethiopian army launched a crackdown on the region after ONLF rebels attacked a Chinese oil venture in April that left 77 people dead.
The barren Ogaden region, neighbouring lawless Somalia, has long been extremely poor, but the discovery of gas and oil has brought new hopes of wealth as well as new causes of conflict.
It is about the same size as Britain with a population of about four million.
Ethiopia accuses arch-foe Eritrea of supporting Ogaden separatists, which the authorities in Asmara have denied.
Formed in 1984, the ONLF is fighting for the independence of ethnic Somalis in Ogaden, whom they say have been marginalised by Addis Ababa.