Ethiopia to begin negotiations with OLA rebel group

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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the rebel Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) will begin peace negotiations in Tanzania on Tuesday, the two sides said.

This is the first time the Ethiopian government has formally said it would negotiate with the OLA, which has been battling the government on and off for decades.

“A negotiation with Oneg Shene will start a day after tomorrow in Tanzania,” Abiy said on Sunday, using another name for the OLA.

The OLA said the government had accepted his group’s terms for peace talks.

“This is a crucial and positive step towards establishing a lasting peace in the region,” OLA said in a statement early on Monday.

However, OLA objected to being referred to as “Shene”, saying the name misrepresented its “identity and objectives.”

The OLA is an outlawed splinter group of the Oromo Liberation Front, a formerly banned opposition party that returned from exile after Abiy took office in 2018. The group’s grievances are rooted in the alleged marginalisation of the Oromo people and neglect by the federal government.

The OLA and the federal government blame each other for a number of attacks in Ethiopia’s Oromiya region, the country’s most populous, in which scores of civilians have been killed.

In February, the state-appointed human rights commission said at least 50 people were killed in an attack it blamed on the OLA.

In October, the OLA and another Oromo group blamed the Ethiopian government for air strikes they said had killed a number of civilians.

“The people of Ethiopia and the government eagerly need this negotiation,” Abiy said at a ceremony honouring a previous peace deal achieved between the federal government and forces in the Tigray region, where fighting had erupted in November 2020 and ended in November 2022.

The fighting between the OLA and the federal government is separate from the fighting in Tigray, but the OLA forged an alliance with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in 2021.