ADDIS ABABA (AFP) — An explosion in Ethiopia’s eastern Somali province, which local authorities believe was a terrorist attack, killed at least four people Sunday, police said.

“There are now four dead and 22 wounded,” Ethiopian federal police spokesman Demsash Hailu told AFP.

“I suspect it is a terrorist action because we have some problems in this area. But there is an investigation opened. We’ll look into the matter to confirm if it is a terrorist action or an accidental explosion,” Demsash added.

“It definitely was a terrorist attack, a bomb was planted in the area,” said Yusuf Mahmud Mussai, the police chief of the Somali province.

The blast occurred near a hotel in Jijiga, police said.

The Somali province includes the region of Ogaden, which has been hit by a series of attacks attributed to separatist rebels in recent years.

The Ethiopian military launched in May 2007 an operation against the Ogaden Nation Liberation Front (ONLF), which is seeking autonomy for the remote region bordering Somalia.

In a report released in June, the New York-based organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the Ethiopian army of executing, torturing and raping civilians in the Ogaden.

The military launched an offensive against the ONLF rebels after they attacked a Chinese-run oil venture in Ogaden in April 2007, killing 74 people.

Formed in 1984, the ONLF is fighting for the independence of ethnic Somalis in Ethiopia’s oil-rich Ogaden, whom they say have been marginalised by Addis Ababa.