Ethiopia to begin negotiations with OLA rebel group

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks at a stadium in the town of Jimma in the southwestern Oromia region of Ethiopia, June 16 2021. [VOA]

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said his government will begin negotiations with rebel group the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) in Tanzania on Tuesday.

This is the first time the Ethiopian government has formally said it would negotiate with the OLA, which has been battling the government on and off for decades.

"A negotiation with Oneg Shene will start a day after tomorrow in Tanzania," Abiy said on Sunday, using another name for the OLA.

OLA spokesman Odaa Tarbii did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The OLA is an outlawed splinter group of the Oromo Liberation Front, a formerly banned opposition party that returned from exile after Abiy took office in 2018. The group's grievances are rooted in alleged marginalization of the Oromo people and neglect by the federal government.

The OLA and the federal government blame each other for a number of attacks in Ethiopia's Oromia region, the country's most populous, in which scores of civilians have been killed.

In February, the state-appointed human rights commission said at least 50 people were killed in an attack it blamed on the OLA.

In October, the OLA and another Oromo group blamed the Ethiopian government for airstrikes they said had killed a number of civilians.

"The people of Ethiopia and the government eagerly need this negotiation," Abiy said at a ceremony honoring a previous peace deal achieved between the federal government and forces in the Tigray region, where fighting had erupted in November 2020 and ended in November 2022.

The fighting between the OLA and the federal government is separate to the fighting in Tigray, but the OLA forged an alliance with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in 2021.