Written by Staff Writer
Ethiopia’s military said Wednesday it will call on all former members of the rebel forces that captured the capital to rejoin the army — after the group’s leader said he was aiming to end decades of bloodshed.
In an unusual statement — and a potential breakthrough in the country’s most challenging months since independence in 1962 — the Ethiopian army said it is looking for some 600 ex-members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) to rejoin the military.
State-owned broadcaster EBC said the move was designed to “neutralize the functions of ONLF militias,” as the ONLF “has attacked the Ethiopian army in the past and is trying to attack the government again.”
Ethiopia’s military statement was released following a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The US government is a staunch ally of Ethiopia’s, with Washington offering training for officers in order to secure and train troops ahead of a referendum in October.
But it follows a speech by ONLF leader Ahmed Warsame, on April 18, where he urged rebels to take up arms again. He told them they had been used “a tool by which America and Israel have waged a war against Ethiopia for over three decades.”
He urged the ONLF to push back against an alleged offensive by Ethiopia’s armed forces in a string of border towns in Oromia, the country’s largest region and the focus of many Ethiopian rebel groups.
The Somalia-based ONLF has fought Ethiopia over an impoverished region of western Ethiopia and wants a greater share of land for the ethnic Oromo population, the country’s largest ethnic group. The conflict has devastated the region for decades, with thousands of deaths each year.
The ONLF, which suffered greatly during war with Ethiopia’s ruling party in recent years, includes both groups opposed to Ethiopia’s political and economic integration with the south of the country.
King Mohammed, head of the Oromo Liberation Front, hailed the growing rebel movements and noted they were united in the interest of “people’s independence and unity.”
He added the Ethiopian government had created the opposition groups to “retaliate against armed struggle,” according to a 2017 report by the International Crisis Group.
As a nation of 95 million people, Ethiopia has been hit by growing protests and unrest in recent years over alleged democratic and human rights abuses by the ruling coalition’s security forces.
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a leader of the ONLF, made a landmark visit to the Oromia region last month, describing it as a “landmark” and vowing to improve relations with people in the region.
Some in the opposition expressed hope that the military announcement could result in the ONLF killing some of the 200-plus fighters holed up in a former military base in Gambella, which has been under the ONLF’s control for a year.
“They have tasted life in a place where Ethiopia’s past dictatorship has engaged in repressive acts and forced disappearances of human rights activists and their loved ones,” said an editorial on the Silesia Front news website.
“There is also fear that the response from the Ethiopian state could be much worse than the situation it found itself in Gambella,” the article said.