By Aaron Maasho
ADDISABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian troops have launched operations against members of a rebel group that signed an agreement to end hostilities with the government last year, an official said on Wednesday.
Since the 1970s, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) has fought an insurgency for self-determination for ethnic Oromos, the Horn of Africa country’s most populous ethnic group.
The OLF was initially part of a transitional government set up in 1991 by rebels. The rebel coalition had driven military leader Mengistu Haile Mariam from power, but the OLF soon fell out with them.
Though the OLF has since splintered into a myriad of groups, one faction with the largest number of fighters, which had been based in neighbouring Eritrea, signed a reconciliation agreement in August with the Ethiopian government, led by reformist premier Abiy Ahmed.
But skirmishes between the two sides have since plagued the Oromiya region.
On Wednesday, Billene Aster Seyoum, press secretary of the prime minister’s office, accused the group of carrying out attacks that included rape, bank robberies, and blockades of highways that caused “a lot of displacement” in parts of the Oromiya region.
“They (the military) started the stabilisation mission over the last two weeks. They have already had key milestones and wins with regards to apprehending these anti-peace elements,” she told reporters.
Billene said the offensive was taking place in the province’s Kelem Wollega Zone, where she said OLF training sites were based. She denied media reports of air strikes, saying helicopters were only used to transport soldiers.
In a statement, the OLF said on Sunday that the government was trying to resolve “disagreements” by force instead of holding discussions.
“It is very sad that the government does not have any interest and patience for peace. That is why the fight between the OLF and the government has not stopped altogether,” it said.
Ethiopia has been roiled by an array of conflicts that have coincided with the implementation of widespread reforms under Abiy, who was appointed prime minister in April.
Nearly three million people were displaced throughout the country last year due to clashes that often took place along ethnic lines.
(Editing by Katharine Houreld, William Maclean)