Ethiopia: Authorities blame the OLA for unrealistic demands

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In November 2023, talks between the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) concluding without reaching an agreement. These discussions, held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, over two rounds, aimed to quell violence and restore stability in part of the Oromia where the rebel OLA army has been staging an armed insurrection.

Following failed negotiating authorities held out hopes for a negotiated settlement, despite difficulties. The fighting in Ethiopia’s most populous region has killed civilians. The OLA, which has been fighting to overthrow the government since 2018 is classified as a terrorist organization by Ethiopia’s parliament. Its forces have been involved in gross atrocities targeting civilians. Counter insurgency efforts have also harmed civilians according to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.

According to a report by Reuters News, Hailu Adugna, the communications chief of the Oromia regional government, stated, “as recently as last month the terror group had perpetrated attacks on civilians in the Arsi zone.” However, specific details regarding the toll or timing were not provided. The GoE expressed its willingness to resume peace talks if the armed group ceases its terror activities and engages in peaceful discussions.

The latest round of talks in Tanzania to resolve the five-year-long insurgency concluded on November 21 without a resolution over key disagreement. The OLA asked to be removed from the terrorist designation and for the formation of a transitional government in the Oromo region. According to GoE officials, ‘the OLA also refused to make commitments towards disarmament’. Surprisingly these were the same set of demands put forth when the first round of talks fell apart in May 2023. At the time the GoE refused these calls on constitutional grounds.

The OLA’s strength peaked in 2021 when it formed tactical allegiance with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) but has since waned, particularly after the latter entered a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) with the GoE.

Observers believe the OLA lacks sufficient organization and arms to pose a substantial threat to the government. However, latest demands do not reflect its relatively weakened position. Seyoum Teshome, an Ethiopian commentator closely associated with the Abiy government believes this paradox reflects the OLA’s external entanglements. Seyoum says, “The group is beholden to foreign entities and extremist diaspora groups based mainly in the United States and in Norway”. He adds, “given this reality I did not expect the OLA to negotiate in good faith — interestingly the mediators also happen to be diplomats from Norway and Ambassador Mike Hammer form the U.S”.

The Oromo, constituting about a third of Ethiopia’s 120 million inhabitants, remains at the center of conflict zones in the west and south. The Oromia region, positioned at the heart of the nation and encircling the capital, is marred by a multitude of issues, encompassing political divisions, land disputes, ethnic tensions, and a recent surge in criminal activities associated with OLA rebels.

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