NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopia’s prime minister said Tuesday his administration is attempting talks with an outlawed rebel group operating mainly in the restive Oromia region.
Abiy Ahmed’s comments to lawmakers on outreach to the Oromo Liberation Army came amid efforts to replicate a peace process conducted for the conflict based in the northern Tigray region that saw an agreement signed in November to end the fighting.
“The government has a high level of interest to resolve this conflict (with OLA) in peaceful terms. Not only interest, but also a committee entrusted with the task of leading the peace process has been set up,” the prime minister said, adding he hopes Ethiopians will support the process.
“More than 10 attempts and contacts were made with the (OLA). The problem so far is that there is no centralized group so every unit has different ideas and positions … the committee is leading the talks and we will see the result together.”
A spokesman for the rebel group, Odaa Tarbii, tweeted on March 20 to say recent reports on meetings between the group and the government were “false.” He did not immediately respond to a message on Tuesday. In a Feb. 18 statement, the OLA indicated that a “mediation agreement” enforced and guaranteed by intentional actors could be possible.
The OLA is listed as a terrorist group in Ethiopia and the government has accused it of carrying out mass killings against ethnic minorities, mainly Amharas, in the Oromia region, the largest of the country’s federal states. In one attack blamed on the group in June, witnesses asserted that more than 200 civilians were killed.
The OLA has rejected most of the accusations and instead blamed attacks on Ethiopian federal forces and allied fighters. Federal forces have carried out frequent airstrikes against the rebel group, also causing civilian casualties.
In recent weeks, the Oromia regional government has expressed interest in talking with the rebel group.
During the Tigray conflict, the OLA declared a short-lived alliance with Tigray forces. Last week, Ethiopian lawmakers removed the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front from the country’s list of designated terror groups.