An Ethiopian rebel group declared a unilateral ceasefire after parliament removed it from a list of banned terrorist groups as part of a reform drive led by the new prime minister.
The Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) fought for autonomy for Oromiya region – Ethiopia’s largest – since 1993. It was designated a terrorist group by government in 2008.
“The temporary declaration of ceasefire will take us to the final declaration of bilateral cessation of hostilities once and for all and conclusion of the conflict,” the group said in a statement.
The move comes a week after Ethiopia’s parliament ruled the group, along with the secessionist Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Ginbot 7 opposition movement, were no longer terrorist groups.
Abiy, who took office in April, is spearheading a push to shake the African nation of 100 million from decades of security-obsessed rule.
He acknowledged and condemned widespread abuses by security forces, likening it to state terrorism and in the most stunning development yet, forged peace with sworn enemy Eritrea, ending a lengthy military standoff that followed a 1998-2000 border war in which 80,000 people are thought to have died.
In Eritrea’s capital Asmara, the 41-year-old leader said the neighbouring nations would solve outstanding issues by “building bridges of love”.
He rescinded a state of emergency and announced plans to partially open up the economy, including attracting foreign capital into the state-run telecommunications company and national airline.
In another break, the prisons chief was fired last week along with four senior colleagues hours before a Human Rights Watch report detailing torture at a notorious prison and urging government to hold officials to account.
Also on Thursday, the president of Ethiopia’s Somali region said his provincial government eleased thousands of inmates jailed for links to the ONLF, one of the opposition groups unbanned.
“Today, there is no single inmate jailed for involvement with the ONLF. We released all prisoners under this reform drive,” said Abdi Mohamoud Omar, adding prisons were in the process of being turned into schools, hospitals and mosques.
“I am not saying we never made mistakes. We did and we apologise to our people. We need to turn hatred into coexistence and love,” he told reporters, in language mirroring the prime minister’s tone in recent public addresses.
The shake-up by Abiy, a polyglot former soldier and Oromo, won plaudits from Asmara to Washington and has drawn comparison to the 1980s reforms of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.
It has also attracted opposition from hardliners in the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ethnic Tigrayan party that has dominated government and the economy since taking power in 1991.