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Britain reportedly joins dash to explore for oil in Somalia

Britain is secretly seeking oil-drilling rights in Somalia as it offers the beleaguered country humanitarian and security aid, The Guardian of London reported Saturday.

But al-Qaida-backed terrorists and other Islamist groups say they will fight against any Western powers drilling for oil in Somalia.

Last week, British Prime Minister David Cameron hosted a 55-nation international conference that ended with promises of aid for the country he said was for two decades “torn apart by famine, bloodshed and some of the worst poverty on earth."


The summit, the Guardian reported, followed a surprise visit by British Foreign Secretary William Hague to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu,  where he discussed "the beginnings of an opportunity'' to rebuild the country.

The Guardian said that away from the summit, British and Somali officials held talks about Somalia’s oil reserves.

Bing maps

The Puntland region of Somalia, where oil exploration is under way after two decades.

Abdulkadir Abdi Hashi, minister for international cooperation in Puntland, north-east Somalia, told the Guardian, "We have spoken to a number of UK officials, some have offered to help us with the future management of oil revenues. They will help us build our capacity to maximise future earnings from the oil industry."

Hashi said Somalia would talk to BP “at the right time” about technology needed to explore Somalia’s oil reserves.

Last month the Canadian company Africa Oil began exploration in the Puntland, the first drilling in Somalia for 21 years.

Hashi, who the Guardian said made the deal with Africa Oil, said the first oil was expected to be extracted within the next "20 to 30 days."

Africa Oil and its partners in the two Puntland licenses, Australia's Red Emperor and Range Resources, are targeting prospective resources of over 300 million barrels of recoverable oil.

The Guardian story comes amid reports from Reuters that an Islamist militia group in the semi-autonomous Puntland  merged with the al Shabaab rebel group, which wants to scrap the licenses of Western oil and gas firms drilling in Puntland.

The al Qaida-backed insurgents used Twitter to declare all oil and gas exploration and drilling licenses nullified. While they do not hold the administrative control in the region needed to enforce their demand, the militants could target installations operated by Western oil companies, Reuters said.

The union comes as the insurgents are being weakened, relinquishing ground to African Union troops around the Somali capital, Mogadishu, and losing territory to Kenyan and Ethiopian forces in parts of southern and central Somalia.

Puntland security officials have previously said the Islamist militia camped out in the Golis hills outside the port city of Bosasso is led by Yasin Khalid Osman.

"I ... the leader of Golis ranges Islamists have signed an agreement with al Shabaab leader Sheikh Muktar Abu Zubeir. We are now al Shabaab," a voice identifying itself as Osman said in an audio recording on al Shabaab's website.

"I urge residents to take part in the jihad against the Christian invaders and the Somali infidels that work with them," he said, referring to the foreign troops inside Somalia.

Osman rarely makes statements, and it was not immediately possible to verify his voice.

This article contains reporting by Reuters.

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