Ethiopia: Reports of renewed peace talks with OLA rebels amidst intensified crackdown

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According to a report by Addis Standard (AS), negotiations between the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) and delegates from the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) are to take place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. If true this would be the second such meeting between the two warring sides since May of this year.

Concurrent with this story by AS however, Ethiopian Television(ETV) reported security forces had taken offensive measures against OLA rebels in parts of Ethiopia, capturing fighters and equipment. This information clashed with assertions made that OLA representatives were meeting with government officials in good faith, to seek negotiated settlement. Fresh fighting confirms OLA’s recent accusations that the government had launched a large-scale offensive against it, “contrary to the spirit of de-escalation we had hoped for”, said the group’s spokes person, according to a report by Barron news.

ETV reporting Ethiopia’s security forces clashed with OLA fighter on 11/8/2023

Designated as a “terrorist organization” by Ethiopia’s parliament, the OLA insurgent group has been fighting the government since 2018. This conflict began when the OLA separated from the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) after the latter supposedly renounced armed resistance. But the relationship between the OLA and OLF remains cryptic by design. Observers believe both groups collaborate efforts.

As reported by AS a total of eight participants representing the OLA, locally referred to as Shene were present. Four of them represent the OLA Western and Central Command, led by OLA Commander Kumsa Diriba, also known as Jaal Marroo. Two participants are from the OLA Southern Command, headed by Gemmechu Regassa, and include Ejerso Urgessa and Jiregna Gudetta, both of whom were part of the first round of talks.

On the side of the federal government, the delegation includes General Getachew Gudina, who serves as the Head of Military Intelligence for the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), and Major General Demis Amenu, who previously took part in the initial round of talks held in Zanzibar, Tanzania, in May.

Much like previous rounds, senior diplomats representing the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), as well as officials from the governments of Kenya and Norway, are said to be actively participating.

Preceding the current negotiations were a series of meetings conducted over the past weeks, involving senior officials from the federal government, the Oromia regional state, as well as two representatives from the OLA who engaged in renewed “political dialogue.” According to undisclosed sources, the “positive outcome” of these meetings has paved the way for the ongoing talks between senior military officials from both sides. The officials who took part in the preceding “political dialogue” are expected to join the signing of an agreement if the talks progress to that stage.

Past discussions fail apart over fundamental disagreements with the federal government as well with the regional authorities of Oromia. These talks were also complicated by the OLA’s fragmented structure. The rebel group lacks a clear hierarchy and is not fully in control of all its fighters.

In the first round of talks OLA put forward a proposition for power-sharing within the Oromo region via a transitional government framework. This transitional government was to include OLA representatives, members of the governing Prosperity Party, and various opposition Oromo parties, including the Oromo Liberation Front and the Oromo Federal Congress. The government, however, turned down this proposal, much like it had done previously when opposition parties had suggested a comparable transitional arrangement during the election delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2019-2020. During that period, opposition Oromo nationalist parties had aimed to assume power through the establishment of a transitional government framework.

Ethiopia’s security forces have in recent months faced revolts in the Amhara region as well. As recently as last week, the GoE is said to be in talks with rebels in Amhara, but it remains unclear whether a deal can be reached at this time. 

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