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Somalia inks oil deal with British ex-Tory leader

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Michael Howard in Blackpool in October 2005 during the Conservative party conference. Somalia's government signed an oil and gas exploration deal on Tuesday with a British company chaired by the former Conservative leader, ministry and company officials said. (AFP/Fiile)

Somalia's government signed an oil and gas exploration deal on Tuesday with a British company chaired by a former leader of Britain's Conservative party, ministry and company officials said.

Soma Oil and Gas, chaired by Michael Howard, a former home secretary who preceded Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron as Tory party leader, signed the deal to carry out offshore and onshore surveys.

War-torn Somalia is fought over by multiple warlords, clan militia forces and Islamist insurgents while several autonomous regions do not obey the authority of central government.

The Horn of Africa nation is challenging territory for even the most adventurous of oil companies.

"It is expected that this will attract further investment and facilitate exploration in an area of immense economic potential for the nation," Somalia's Ministry of National Resources said in a statement.

"The company will conduct seismic surveying to assist the development of Somalia's hydrocarbons sector," the statement added.

It is the first oil deal signed by the internationally-backed government in Mogadishu, which took power last September, and is propped up by a 17,700-strong African Union force to fight off Al-Qaeda backed insurgents.

Several of Somalia's potentially rich oil and gas blocs are claimed by rival companies, because deals were signed by the different authorities which emerged in the long years of war that followed the collapse of central government in 1991.

Soma Oil and Gas, which was set up last year with a view to carrying out exploration in Somalia, will "conduct seismic surveying in Somalia's territorial waters in areas agreed with the government and in certain limited onshore areas," the company said in a statement.

It will also "collate and reprocess historic seismic data using modern techniques" to prepare "an evaluation of Somalia's petroleum potential", the company added.

Howard, now a life peer in the House of Lords, parliament's upper house, said the deal reflected the "close collaboration" between Britain and Somalia.

"It is our intention to assist Somalia to develop an active hydrocarbons sector that will attract significant foreign investment to the country," Howard said in a statement.

A United Nations Monitoring Group report last month warned that foreign oil exploration could further inflame conflict in the region.