Undertaking political reforms with a vision to broaden the political space in Ethiopia in a way to help create a democratic political culture was top agenda item for prime minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration.
In that direction, apart from all releasing all political prisoners in the country, his government removed armed political organizations operating outside of Ethiopia from the list of terrorism and invited them all to the country for a peaceful struggle and help create a democratic system in the country to which all armed groups including the radical Oromo ethno-nationalist organization – Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) – responded positively.
As it turns out, OLF’s, whose leadership returned to Ethiopia in mid September, acceptance of government offer to return to the country was meant to be a strategic move rather to carry out a militant activity to pursue its radicalism.
Dawud Ibsa, Chairman of the OLF, told journalists in a press conference on Friday that there has been a fighting between his rebel forces on the one hand and government forces on the other in areas like Selale, Bale, Guji and Western Oromia- Wollega region.
Government officials admit that there is an ongoing fighting between Ethiopian defense force and OLF militants in the above-mentioned regions of Ethiopia.
Dr. Alemu Sime who is head of Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), a party that is governing Oromia regional state, told Fana Broadcasting Corporation (FBC) yesterday that Ethiopians in some parts of Wollega like Qelem district are not getting government services, schools are closed, rebel fighters are rapping women and banks are robbed, among other things.
In other words, government structure in the region is replaced by OLF governance structure. The situation seems to have a negative impact on the security of citizens for killings of civilians is now rife in the region. For example, VOA Amharic reported yesterday that eight civilians were killed in Lalo Asabi district of Western Wollega.
For OLF chairman, the war is explained in terms of failure on the part of Ethiopian government to implement “agreement” – a reference to talks between government of Ethiopia and OLF in Asamara which led to cessation of hostility with Ethiopian government sometime in August of this year.
He specifically mentioned “integration of OLF fighters with government forces” and restrictions to visit OLF’s demobilized rebel forces at Ardaita training camp in Arusi, among others, as showcases to prove his point that government is violating “agreement.” Mr. Dawud also indicated that the appointment of former OLF faction leader, Gen. Kemal Gelchu who also used to be in the Ethiopian Defense force, as security chief of Oromia region as a point of divergence between his organization and Oromia regional state.
Government dismisses OLF allegations of breaching agreement. It says there was no special agreement with OLF. Dr. Alemu Sime says government invited all opposition forces to return to the country for a peaceful struggle and no opposition party need to be armed to carry out a peaceful struggle.
Regarding allegations of restrictions on OLF leaders to visit former OLF combatants, he says that it is baseless as OLF leadership visited former combatants. 1300 combatants who returned from Eritrea are taking training in Ardaita, Arusi. For the government, they are citizens and they are no longer OLF forces. And it was important for the government to provide training, psychological and other, to these forces before they are integrated to the society. About 700 have shown interest in joining Oromia regional police and met the requirement, and they are taking police training in Adama. About 400 are interested in staring their small business and government is making arrangements for micro-finance solutions.
According to Dr. Alemu there were also Tigrigna speakers in the OLF forces, and that they were sent to Tigray region. And some tend to see that as a proof that OLF has entered into a new partnership with Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which is believed to be financing instabilities in different parts of Ethiopia.
Alemu added, government has been extremely patient with OLF even when citizens are killed something that should not be the case from the point of view of government responsibility to protect the safety and security of citizens.
Now government has deployed forces to areas where there were security problems including in Wollega region but OLF leader seem to think that the move is not right. “OLF forces are not launching an attack. They are commanded only to be respond to an attack,” he said.
A little strange about OLF militant activity, which essentially escalated to civil war, is that the leader, Dawud Ibsa, is commanding his forces from the comfort of his office in the capital Addis Ababa – the seat of Ethiopia’s government.
And that is what most Ethiopians seem to find even stranger. Why the radical Oromo nationalist organization, OLF, is permitted to have an armed force, in the first place, while all other armed groups are disarmed and operating peacefully in the country is the question that many Ethiopian are asking.
Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), which has been avoiding calling OLF militants by name for a long time when it employed “unidentified armed group”, is now admitting that OLF is dragging Ethiopia to civil war and that it will no more tolerate it.
OLF’s response is that it is now ready for ceasefire and for peace talk. And if ODF statement is true, it could be a little late for a peaceful negotiation.
For now, Dawud Ibsa is still managing his militant radical ethno- nationalist forces from the capital Addis Ababa.
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