ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — An Ethiopian rebel group recently welcomed back to the country accuses the reformist government of targeting it with airstrikes. The government denies it.
Tensions are growing with the Oromo Liberation Front, which a year ago was in exile and listed as a terror group after waging a deadly guerrilla war for self-determination. It was among a number of groups invited home to take part in political dialogue as part of sweeping reforms under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. He took office in April.
The OLF on Thursday said Ethiopia’s air force carried out airstrikes in the western Oromia region on Jan. 12-13, saying seven civilians, including a baby, were killed.
“Trying to hide this attack is like trying to hide with a stolen camel,” the OLF said in a statement. It also accused Ethiopian troops of burning people’s houses and stealing their belongings.
Abiy’s office denied reports of airstrikes but said rebel groups were “not heeding the call for peace.” A statement by press secretary Billene Seyoum accused the OLF of “egregious violence against community members.”
The statement said Ethiopian forces have responded to a request by the Oromia regional government and have been “undertaking a stabilizing operation over the past two weeks, and the area is now being secured.”
Abiy recently expressed frustration with the OLF, warning it against trying to take power in a few months’ time instead of following the path to what he has pledged will be free and fair elections in 2020. The OLF has expressed support for elections, provided they are on time.
In what analysts have called the core problem, OLF has said there was no agreement for it to disarm when it agreed to return home. Ethiopia’s government has said clearly it must disarm as the country’s legal framework doesn’t allow more than one armed entity.
The OLF’s members have been estimated at around 5,000.
Ethiopia is currently experiencing ethnic-based clashes in various parts of the country that have led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Ethnic minorities have been attacked and universities have closed.
The unrest poses the biggest challenge so far to Ethiopia’s reforms.