British geologist shot dead during bandit attack in Ethiopia

A British geologist has been shot dead while working for an oil company in Ethiopia, the Foreign Office said. The 39-year-old, named as Jason Read, was killed on Monday near Danot town.

The geologist worked for IMC Geophysics International Ltd, which was subcontracted to the Malaysian oil giant Petronas. The killing took place in the conflict-ravaged Ogaden region. It is believed the man was attacked while driving on his own in what officials have described as an "act of banditry".

The company said in a statement: "We are deeply shocked and saddened by this tragedy and our sincere thoughts and sympathies are with Jason's family."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "Ethiopian authorities are carrying out a full inquiry and we are liaising closely with them."

Ethiopia's communication minister Bereket Simon said the death was an "act of banditry" but added: "The deceased did not take security measures and was driving alone. Following the act the local militia confronted the perpetrators and took measures on them. We understand the act was not politically motivated."

Ethiopia is not an oil-producing country but Chinese companies and Petronas have signed exploration deals. The Somali-speaking Ogaden region has long been dangerous as separatist groups battle for independence. Trouble flared in the mid-1990s after the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) backed the idea of splitting from Ethiopia.

The conflict escalated following the ONLF's April 2007 attack on a Chinese-run oil exploration field. Some 74 people died in the attack, including Ethiopian guards and Chinese workers.

Abdirahman Mahdi, spokesman for the Ogadeni rebels, told the Associated Press: "As far as we know, our fighters are not involved in such barbaric attacks. Our troops do not have permission to target foreign civilians. But we will investigate the circumstances that led to the man's death."

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