Addis Abeba – In what appeared to be a sharp departure in tone and messaging, Shimelis Abdissa, President of Oromia regional state, said that he wants to end the fighting Oromia region that has pitted federal and regional forces against rebels from the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), often referred by the government as “Shene”, for more than four years.
During a one and half hour interview aired through state and party affiliated media last night, Shimelis insisted the region, together with the federal government was pursuing twofold means to put the region back into the paths of peace and prosperity. “The first and the primary” means to end the conflict in the region is “the peaceful path,” but he offered no concrete plan on how that was to be achieved.
It is a far cry from an announcement by the regional government in November last year that the region will not sit down for talks with militants that it accused of having “no political agenda.” In his latest interview however, Shimelis said that the regional state authorities were working hard to make the peaceful path work, including with Abba Gadaas and Hadha Sinqees, religious leaders, scholars and other stakeholders. “We would like to thank them so much,” he said without delving much about the process.
The OLA, on their part have been saying that they will negotiate in the presence of a credible third party. The group has recently published a brief political manifesto: “From Armed Struggle to the Prospect for Peace”. In it OLA stated, among others, what heir prospects for peaceful resolution of the conflict is. The manifesto said that the OLA “maintains that a lasting and sustainable solution to Ethiopia’s multifaceted and complex political problems can result only from a comprehensive political settlement that emanates from an all-inclusive political process involving all stakeholders and representative [of] political forces.”
The OLA, however, charges the Ethiopian government “no longer possesses the legitimacy and confidence of all stakeholders to convene and preside over such a process. The regime-sponsored national dialogue is demonstrably dead-on-arrival. International sponsorship of a genuine political process is necessary for a number of reasons.”
It therefore insists on “only international actors can be guarantors for the enforcement of mediation agreements. This is a singularly crucial piece of the puzzle. Even internationally, only a few actors can guarantee implementation.”
“There is nothing we cannot solve through peaceful means; no force should pay unnecessary scarifies”
Not in a position to handle
Calling the OLA an “insurgent group”, Shimelis admitted that the Oromia region “was not in a position” to handle it alone. “During the war in the northern part of the country, the region has shouldered challenges more than its means; the leadership and security forces have paid scarifies that cannot be described,” he said, adding that works were now underway together with the federal government to find ways to end the crisis.
“There is nothing we cannot solve through peaceful means; no force should pay unnecessary scarifies,” Shimelis said, and explained that all can pursue peaceful, democratic means including through the establishment of political parties. So peaceful path this is our primary option that we are following, he said, and pleads with OLA to “come to the peaceful path; let it be enough for our people who suffered; this [fighting] is shameful, which will not be undone through historic precedence. Enough! Let them come to peaceful path. So what I would like to call on is for these forces participating in [the fighting] to come to the peaceful path. It doesn’t help anyone; it doesn’t help Ethiopia. More than anyone it is hurting the Oromo people. It is opening up the doors for others, and its bringing humiliation,” he said.
Maintaining that the “Shene” is a group with no cause to fight for, both regional and federal authorities have repeatedly said in the past that they will work “to eliminate” it militarily, but will welcome and amnesty those who come forward and put their weapons down. As recently as last month, both the regional government and the national army issued increased threats to eliminate the rebel group even as fighting intensified in several parts of the region including the use of drones in civilian populated areas.
In April last year, Colonel Girma Ayele, Coordinator of ENDF’s Southern Command, said that the army has launched a decisive action against the group. According to him, a coordinated operation against the group between federal and regional forces resulted in the arrest of OLA members and capture of variety of weapons and ammunition as well as medicine supplies.
Regardless, the OLA proved itself mounting deadly attacks on federal and regional forces as well as federal security facilities. On 07 January, the group broke into a zonal correction facility in Bule Hora town, in West Guji Zone, Southern Oromia, and set more than 480 prisoners free.
“We have willingly dedicated our lives to the liberation of our people not because we are warmongers who relish deadly conflicts and their attendant vagaries“
On the other hand, the OLA insists that its struggle was anchored in ensuring the right of the Oromo to self-administration, something spelled in its recent brief manifesto. The OLA, it says, stand to “fight for the Oromo people’s right to self-determination”, and “fight for the freedom of the Oromo people from political exclusion, economic exploitation, and socio-cultural marginalization.”
“We have willingly dedicated our lives to the liberation of our people not because we are warmongers who relish deadly conflicts and their attendant vagaries but because armed struggle is the sole means left to free ourselves from the ravages of tyranny and rebuild our humanity and identity that have been pulverized by a century of cultural degradation and dehumanization,” the OLA said.
But to make matters complicated, Shimelis is not only dismissive of the OLA as rebels with a cause, but said that the issue of “Shene” and the prospect of security in Oromia is an issue that involves “many forces”. He claimed that there are “forces that do not want the peace of the people,” and “want for the Oromo people to fight one another.”
He categorized five different forces that he claimed were “profiteering from this group”, including forces that “do want to pay sacrifices on their own, but who swear in the name of the Oromo people and consider themselves as advocate of the Oromo people while playing with the blood of children”; “Ethiopianist forces” that he claimed appear on the surface hating the Shene, but who like it for two reasons – to use the Shene as the wound and the problem of the Oromo people, to humiliate and shame the Oromo people, and to create the ground for others to feel “inferior and stranger among the Oromo people.” He accused this force of “supporting the Shene through ideas and even arms….we have seen this objectively in some places,” he said.
The third forced that are using “the Shene” are those who are engaged in localized petty crimes; while the fourth forces are “those who lost what they want and want to retake that.” The fifth forces, he said, are those that are in the diaspora. “It’s the combined forces of these who have turned the Shene into a mercenary force and are using it.”
Forces that are “genuinely working for the interest of the Oromo people” must therefore come out of this and the circumstances the conducive environment to provide such processes must be created, with everyone’s participation, Shimelis said, and vowed that “there is nothing the Oromia regional government wants than seeking to solve this problem peacefully.”
In the backdrop of calls for peace
Yesterday’s interview with Shimelis came in the backdrop of recent calls for peaceful resolution of the conflict. On 05 December, a group of members of parliament representing Oromia region for the ruling Prosperity Party in the national parliament made a headline when submitted a letter consisting ten points to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and senior leaders of the parliament demanding lasting peace in Oromia region. The MPs called on the government in an unprecedented manner to cease the war in Oromia and make peace deal with Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), in a same manner it did with Tigrayan forces, according to one MP.
Subsequent to their letter, the MPs are reported to have met with federal government officials, security officials and the Speakers of both the House of People’s Representatives and House of federation. as well as Shimelis Abdisa, President of the Oromia Regional State on Tuesday, 27 December to further discuss on security issues of Oromia region.
In subsequent development, MP Bethel Malkamu said that the MPs “demanded that the reconciliation in Tigray be conducted in the same way with the militants operating in Oromia, and they told us that they are willing for a peace agreement and that they are preparing for the peace talks and reconciliation process.” However, she said that they were not given any explanation on what the peace and reconciliation process would look like and how it would be conducted.
The members of the parliament elected from Oromia continued calling on everyone to exert pressure to bring an end to the conflict and violence in Oromia. They also called on community members and elders to put pressure on both the government and the militants to end the war.
In January this year, in a rare statement, the US government said it wants an end to the conflict in Oromia regional state during a phone call between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Secretary of State Antony Blinken when the two “discussed the need to bring an end to ongoing instability in the Oromia region.”
However, there is no indication available publicly indicating international actors are involved in bringing the two sides together for peace talks. AS
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