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Bridging the gap between OLA disarmament and a transitional government has become harder after hostilities flared again.
Despite recent talks between the Ethiopian government and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), escalating violence in Oromia has cast doubt on the prospects for peace.
Less than two weeks after the government and OLA completed their first round of discussions in Zanzibar, residents in Oromia accused government forces of burning houses belonging to individuals suspected of sheltering OLA fighters. Days later, the OLA accused the government of launching an “all-out offensive”.
According to OLA, they inflicted significant losses after government forces attacked them in various locales where they held sway, including East Shewa, West Shewa, West Arsi, West Hararghe, Horo Guduru, and in southern Oromia.
Reports of large-scale government offensives and the OLA advancing into towns and freeing political prisoners demonstrate that peace talks have thus far failed to halt hostilities.
This has raised concerns among some in Oromia that the government is not sincere in its stated intention to continue talks. The resumption of intense fighting suggests an end to the conflict may not be imminent.
“The government is losing on many fronts and I don’t think the second round of talks will take place in the near future,” a gloomy Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) official in Oromia told Ethiopia Insight on 18 May.
The Zanzibar talks began on 24 April and concluded on 3 May without a truce or a schedule for subsequent meetings. Some residents, Oromo activists, and politicians are advocating for the recommencement of the negotiations.
But their call was followed on 17 May by OLA accusing the government of new attacks to increase its leverage in the talks. According to the OLA, government tactics included killing civilians, burning homes, and forcing farmers to supply food for their troops and drafting them into local militias.
“This move starkly contradicts the understanding that de-escalation should be prioritized during negotiation processes,” OLA said.
OLA called for the international community to condemn the regime’s attempts to control negotiations through force. It said the Oromo movement could not be coerced into accepting a subpar political settlement and that a deal needed to respect “the aspirations and sacrifices” made by Oromos.
However, Taye Dendea, a State Minister of Peace, said in an interview that he’s not aware of the reported recent fighting. He added that he held a meeting in his parliamentary constituency in North Shoa Zone where attendees said they wanted to see peace.
It now appears unlikely a second round of talks will occur soon with the allegations of government offensives fostering more mistrust, exacerbated by the official silence on the matter.
“The trust level is too low as well. The 2018 Asmara ‘agreement’ left a bad memory,” said an Oromo analyst in Addis Ababa, referring to the peace deal that saw the OLF re-enter the fold of Ethiopian politics.
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The recent disclosure of a report by the Ethiopian Policy Studies Institute (PSI) proposing constitutional amendments that may erode self-determination rights has heightened tensions as it raises concerns for OLA leaders that the negotiations may merely serve to divert from the government’s hidden agenda.The PSI was formed in 2018 by merging two existing government think tanks.
Oromos have experienced historical oppression and discrimination, causing widespread opposition to the central government. OLF, the flagbearer of Oromo nationalism, has been fighting for Oromo self-determination since 1973.
Though both sides said the first round of negotiations were positive, the government wasn’t willing to accede to OLA’s demand for a transitional administration in Oromia. OLA leaders say forming a transitional government is necessary to ensure fair elections and Oromo self-determination.
Given the fragility of his coalition, Abiy may consider a transitional government risky, as Oromia is a key constituency and power-sharing would weaken the regional hold of his Prosperity Party there.
Conversely, OLA will not be keen to accept the continued presence of the 170 Prosperity Party members from Oromia in the federal parliament as this would leave the ruling party in control of its fate.
In that scenario, even if the OLA ran Oromia, the federal government could still exert control by, for example, by stifling the region’s funding, declaring a state of emergency, or continuing to deploy national troops to the region.
Another key sticking point, OLA leaders reject government calls for its disarmament before a political agreement is reached.
The Oromo analyst Ethiopia Insight interviewed worries that the parties are too far apart. “The government is so adamant on sticking to its position, and OLA is not ready for immediate disarmament,” he said.
OLA split from the OLF in 2019 when commanders opposed disarmament plans and other aspects of how the formerly exiled OLF’s return to Ethiopia was handled after signing a peace deal in Asmara with Prime Minister Abiy in 2018.
Since then, OLA has been waging an insurgency, often employing hit-and-run tactics, while government forces have waged a brutal counterinsurgency.
Officials accuse OLA of committing a slew of atrocities against mainly Amhara residents of Oromia, a charge OLA leaders deny. The Washington Post reported on 21 May that some attacks on Amharas have been carried out by a rival militia led by Fekade Abdissa.
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2 points regarding the conflict and negotiations:
1) Given how the FGE treats regions, governorship of a region would mean nothing. Look how the FGE treated Tigray. It’s not like a federal system in Canada where the national government wouldn’t dream of interfering in a provincial election.
2) disarmament before a political settlement is obviously a non starter. The only influence OLA, or any other regional group, has on FGE is armed struggle
This is what commies and their by-products who went on to found groups of violence call ‘liberation’. You just barge in some places of work where making a living and loot it, damage, destroy it and when that does not give you satisfaction then kill and maim innocent workers. You call that ‘liberation’. That is not enough. After you damage/destroy places of work and kill innocent workers you accuse the regime of attacking your bases. You kill innocent poor farmers and you blame others for the repulsive crime. ‘Not me. He/they did it’ is your communiqué protocol. You still call yourself a ‘liberation’ outfit.
I never put my red penny betting that the Zanzibar so-called ‘peace talk’ would bring about a settlement of issues between the warring sides. When ‘referendum’ is on the table I am not sure how anything productive will come out of that super luxury hotel in Zanzibar. What shocked me was who was who at the negotiation table. I was gob smacked to find out someone who gave me an impression that he will never associate himself with violence was there on behalf of the most cruel band murderers out there. I was shocked and felt cheated. Since then I have been asking those I know personally for years if they are from the same school of thought of non-violence like me to find out they are also overawed just like me. I am utterly disgusted. What the world is coming to?