By Aaron Maasho, ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia has arrested 29 people, including nine opposition party members, for plotting to carry out bomb attacks in the Horn of Africa nation, a senior security official said Monday.
Demelash Woldemikael, deputy commissioner of federal police, said the individuals had been rounded up since August 27 and all had links with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a secessionist group Addis Ababa blacklisted as terrorists last year.
“They were all trained by the OLF and we’ve found plenty of evidence proving that they plotted to bomb targets,” Demelash told Reuters.
Seven of the suspects are members of the opposition Oromo People’s Congress party, while two are from the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement, Demelash said.
He said the suspects had appeared in court and been remanded in custody to enable police to carry out further investigations.
Opposition politicians and rights group Human Rights Watch have accused Ethiopia of cracking down on opposition campaigners from the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s biggest with 27 million people out of a population of 80 million.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is Washington’s closest ally in the Horn of Africa but has been criticised by rights groups for crushing dissent. Meles says “terrorists” are using political party membership to hide their activities.
The government said it had arrested 121 Oromos in March after accusing them of being OLF members.
Two opposition leaders from the Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement and the Oromo People’s Congress were detained late last month on suspicion of OLF links. The two men were included in the nine party members mentioned by Demelash.
Ethiopia’s main opposition coalition, Medrek, said the two had been detained after meeting a delegation from international rights group Amnesty International, which confirmed it had met the two leaders.
The government said last week claims there was a link between the meeting and the arrests was “unfounded fabrication.”
Demelash rejected the idea there were any political motives behind the arrests of the 29 suspects.
“We have the evidence to prove against that. Their political activity had nothing to do with their incarceration,” he said.
“They were posing as peaceful activists but were in fact operating with the OLF, which is responsible for past killings of innocent civilians,” Demelash said.
Oromia produces most of the coffee in Africa’s biggest grower, along with oil seeds, sesame and livestock, all of which are major exports.
(Editing by David Clarke)