ADDIS ABABA (AFP) – A rebel group in Ethiopia’s southeastern Somali region has agreed to lay down arms after decades of guerrilla war, Communications Minister Bereket Simon announced Friday.
Leaders of the United Western Somali Liberation Front (UWSLF) had, after talks with the government, “accepted totally to abide by the constitution of Ethiopia and operate legally and abandon the armed struggle,” Bereket told a press conference.
“We expect these leaders to appear here soon to explain how they will operate in the Ethiopian legal atmosphere,” Bereket said, hailing a step that “will help the stability and peace” in the region also known as Ogaden.
Bereket said that the UWSLF was not as powerful as it had been and operated mainly from Somalia while having links to Eritrea, with which Ethiopia has had tense relations since a 1998-2000 border war.
Created in the 1970s, the UWSLF was active during the 1977-78 war for control of the Ogaden, in which Ethiopia defeated Somalia. But the rebel movement has seen many divisions and became increasingly inactive.
Asked by AFP about the conditions of the rebels’ decision, Bereket said the “government has decided to respect their right to operate in the Ethiopian legal system, to enter into more civilised and pacific politics.”
“We’ll not do accounting from the past. We’ll do a fresh start,” he added.
The UWSLF had agreed to play “the constitutional game”, which “means you recognise there will be no army apart from the EDF (Ethiopian Defence Force,” Bereket said.
He said the group was responding to change since “the overall trend in Ethiopia is positive, also in the Somali region, and the people are starting to understand the implications of this development work.”
Like the Ogaden National Liberation Front, set up in 1984 in a split with the UWSLF, the rebel group has been fighting for the independence of the Ogaden, a region rich in natural resources and peopled mainly by Somali speakers.