By Tesfa-Alem Tekle, ST
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – The Ethiopian government on Saturday freed leaders and members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), country’s most active rebel movement, which has been fighting for the right of the eastern Somali region to secede since 1984.
The move is part of the peace accord signed last week in Addis Ababa between leaders of a breakaway group of ONLF led by Salahdin Abdulrahman and the Ethiopian government, the Somali regional state prison commission said.
State prison commissioner Abdi Bedi Ousman said the human rights of the prisoners had been respected as per the constitution of the country during their prison terms. Academic and vocational training had also been offered to the prisoners, he said.
The freed ONLF leaders, members and fighters had been accused of multiple crimes.
The commissioner called on the released ONLF rebels to actively engage in the development of the region.
The rebel faction which signed the peace pact last Tuesday, claims to be the main body of the ONLF rebel group.
However, a spokesman for the other ONLF group, Abderahmane Mahadi, told AFP that the deal was propaganda, dismissing the other rebel faction as “irrelevant”. Mahadi vowed that his faction of the ONLF would continue an armed struggle against the Addis Ababa government.
After the peace deal, Ethiopian authorities said the door for negotiations was still wide open and invited the remaining ONLF rebels and other factions to come to peace talks.
The government has pledged to allocate resources to help the members of the ONLF who signed the peace deal become rehabilitated and integrated into society.
Government officials, the ONLF faction’s chairman Engineer Salahdin Abdulrahman and other senior leaders of ONLF, and invited delegates were present at the occasion.
Ethiopian government officials including Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who invited the ONLF rebels to his office after the deal was signed, have welcomed the peace agreement.
Last week hundreds of Jijiga town residents in Somali region went into the streets in support of the peace accord which ended the 25 year-long insurgency of the separatist group.
In April 2007, the ONLF fighters attacked a Chinese-run oil field in Ethiopia’s Somali Region. The attack which drew international condemnation killed 65 Ethiopians and nine Chinese workers.
Following the attack, government security forces commenced a series of military crackdown which led to the killing of hundreds of ONLF militants.
The ONLF and its armed wing, the Ogaden National Liberation Army (ONLA) has long been designated as a terrorist group by the Ethiopian government.
Ethiopia accuses Eritrea of arming and financing, the Ogaden National Liberation Front and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF). An allegation Asmara denies.