A government official in Ethiopia says his country will begin exporting natural gas in three to five years following the discovery of huge reserves in the country's Somali region.

Ethiopian Mines Minister Tolossa Shagi said Friday the country expects to make in excess of $1 billion in annual foreign exchange earnings from gas exports.

Tolossa said a Chinese company has discovered 4.7 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and that the country will start exporting gas after satisfying local demand.

He said security has been beefed up to avoid an attack similar to a 2007 incident in which 65 Ethiopian and nine Chinese oil and gas workers were killed by suspected rebels operating in the region.