Ethiopia peace talks kick off in Zanzibar

Peace talks between the Ethiopian government and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) have begun on the Tanzanian island of Zanzibar, a rebel commander has confirmed to the BBC.

This is the first time the Ethiopian government is formally negotiating with OLA after years of conflict.

No details have been shared so far about the format of the negotiations or who will be mediating between the two parties.

The US, Norway, Sweden and Kenya are said to have been pushing the two sides to peacefully end the hostilities in the country’s vast Oromia region where the majority of residents are Oromos, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group.

The OLA has been fighting government forces since it split from a former rebel movement in 2018. The talks come about six months after Ethiopia’s government reached a peace deal to end a bloody two-year war in the northern region of Tigray.

In the latest sign of the deep crisis that has engulfed Ethiopia, conflict in the vast Oromia region – the heartland of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed – is escalating as political and ethnic tensions explode.

It has seen Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) rebel raid towns that were once out of their reach, and hold “graduation ceremonies” to boast of new recruits, while the government has responded with troop reinforcements and drone strikes as it rules out talks to end the crisis.

Adding to the dangerous cocktail, much-feared militias from the rival Amhara ethnic group are widely believed to have crossed into Oromia to fight the rebels.

The OLA are increasingly projecting themselves as the champions of Oromo nationalism, gaining publicity in opposition-linked media outlets that, just a few years ago, treated them as marginal players in Ethiopian politics.

The government-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (HRC) says that “hundreds” of people have been killed in a “gruesome manner” in the past five months in Oromia, while a United Nations (UN) agency says almost a million people have been forced from their homes.

All sides in the conflict deny accusations they have committed human rights abuses. -BBC

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