Oil chiefs gather in war-scarred Angola

LUANDA (AFP) - OPEC oil producers gathered in poverty-stricken Angola on Monday said they would hold output firm amid comfortably high prices at their first ever meeting hosted by Africa's new crude-pumping giant.

Convening against the backdrop of an oil boom in a country ruined by three decades of war, OPEC members expected to hold firm the emergency oil quota cuts agreed a year ago, hoping for a strengthening of the oil market.

"We will keep with the decisions that we have taken in the past on production quotas and leave our goals unchanged," Angolan Oil Minister Jose Botelho de Vasconcelos said on the radio ahead of the meeting.

Observers had said ministers at Tuesday's meeting would have one eye on Iraq's recovering oil industry and its ambitious plans to ramp up its production to levels that could rival OPEC kingpin Saudi Arabia.

But Iraqi Oil Minister Hussein al-Shahristani told reporters on Sunday he did not expect to tackle the question of production allowances for Iraq, while stressing its special situation as a country recovering from war.

"I don't expect any discussion on setting quotas or even discussing till we reach the point when there is a significant increase of Iraqi production," likely in two or three years, he said.

"In the case of Iraq we have been deprived of the fair share of the world market and this should be taken into account."

Iraq is currently exempt from the cartel's system of quotas, which seek to limit production by members in order to stabilise prices.

Oil prices have hovered between 70 and 80 dollars in recent months. Shahristani echoed other OPEC ministers' views in saying this range was "reasonable for the producers."

It is the first meeting hosted by Angola, an emerging oil power which joined the 12-member Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries in 2007.

Despite being considered Africa's biggest oil producer and the holder this year of the presidency of the exclusive OPEC club, Angola is still suffering from 27 years of civil war that ended seven years ago.

One in six Angolans lives in poverty and hunger with little access to clean water, President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos said earlier this month.

The country's offshore oil platforms, run largely by international companies such as Chevron and Total, helped the country pump out 1.9 million barrels of crude a day in October, according to the latest figures from the International Energy Agency (IEA).

This was on a par with Africa's other oil giant, Nigeria, which Angola had surpassed in previous months as the continent's leading producer overall.

But away from the shiny new conference centre where the OPEC ministers are to meet on Tuesday, cars and buses wait to fill up at petrol pumps of the state-controlled oil company Sonangol in queues dozens of yards (metres) long.

The OPEC meeting caps a year of recovery for oil prices which have more than doubled since the cartel set strict quota cuts in the depths of the economic crisis 12 months ago.

In January the cartel enforced total OPEC cuts of 4.2 million barrels a day, which helped prices more than double from lows around 32 dollars in December.

Several OPEC ministers have said the current price of oil -- which has been hovering around 75 dollars a barrel -- is comfortable for its 12 members.

OPEC's most powerful player, Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, said this month that "inventories are coming down, the price is perfect, and all investors, consumers, producers are all very happy."