Offensive launched against Oromo rebels

219

Ethiopian troops launched operations against members of a rebel group that signed an agreement to end hostilities with government last year, an official said.

Since the 1970s, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) fought an insurgency for self-determination for ethnic Oromos, the Horn of Africa country’s most populous ethnic group.

The OLF was initially part of a transitional government set up in 1991 by rebels. The rebel coalition drove military leader Mengistu Haile Mariam from power, but the OLF soon fell out with them.

The OLF has since splintered into a myriad of groups, one faction with the largest number of fighters, based in neighbouring Eritrea, signed a reconciliation agreement in August with the Ethiopian government, led by reformist premier Abiy Ahmed.

Skirmishes between the two sides plague the Oromiya region.

On Wednesday, Billene Aster Seyoum, press secretary in the Prime Minister’s office, accused the group of carrying out attacks including rape, bank robberies and blockades of highwayscausing “a lot of displacement” in parts of the Oromiya region.

“The military started the stabilisation mission over the last two weeks. They have key milestones and wins with regards to apprehending these anti-peace elements,” she told reporters.

Billene said the offensive was in the province’s Kelem Wollega Zone, where OLF training sitesare based. She denied media reports of air strikes, saying helicopters were only used to transport soldiers.

In a statement, the OLF said Government was trying to resolve “disagreements” by force instead of discussions.

“It is sad government does not have any interest and patience for peace. That is why the fight between the OLF and government has not stopped,” it said.

Ethiopia has been rocked by an array of conflicts coinciding with implementation of widespread reforms under Abiy, appointed prime minister in April.

Nearly three million people were displaced last year due to clashes often along ethnic lines.