Ethiopia – Government forces battle OLF soldiers in West Wellega

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The Ethiopian army is fighting soldiers for the separatist Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) in the western part of the country for the second day today as both sides traded accusations that the other opted to use force to resolve disputes.

Dawd Ibssa, chairman of the OLF accused the government of sending troops to Western Wellega, East Wellega, Selalie, Guji and Bale and attacking his soldiers. He told reporters in Addis Ababa that the fight was mainly in West Wellega. “We have instructed our soldiers to defend themselves if they come under attack,” Ibssa said at a press conference.

Dr. Alemu Sime, head of the central committee office for the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP), the party of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, on his part accused that OLF soldiers have killed innocent civilians, including local officials. He said the soldiers have kidnapped people, raped women, robbed banks, attacked police stations and took weapons from the local police. As a result, he said, government offices were out of service and schools have been shut down.

Dr. Sime said the government had been patient for six months but it is now    time to take appropriate actions. “We have been patient for six months for the sake of peace and security of the people; while we work for peaceful solutions, we would also take actions to restore order.”

Ibssa confirmed reports that a similar fight had taken place in October in Asossa, Nekempt, Gimbi and Dembi Dolo. He said both sides agreed to mediator’s recommendations for peaceful engagement. “But the government had violated the ceasefire and sent troops to West Wellega to attack our soldiers.” But Dr. Sime says the government has the right to deploy troops wherever the security of the people is under threat.

The OLF and its combatants returned to Ethiopia from their base in neighboring Eritrea following a call for peaceful political struggle by the government of Abiy Ahmed, which took power in April after a political infight with in the ruling coalition of the EPRDF.

According to the peace agreement, 1300 soldiers for the OLF were disarmed and checked into a rehabilitation camp with the aim of undergoing training before they are reintegrated into civilian lives. But Dr. Sime says the OLF had sneaked 60 armed soldiers into West Wellega. “The government knew the presence of 60 armed soldiers in West Wellega but it did not immediately take measures because it wanted to give  peaceful resolution a chance.” He blamed the armed OLF soldiers for the ongoing violence in the area.

“The OLF agreed to be part of a peaceful political process in the country. It does not need soldiers to do so,” Dr. Sime says.