By Abdi Ahmed,
PEACE talks between the Ethiopian government and ONLF has officially resumed in Nairobi, said Abdirahman Mahdi, ONLF head of foreign Affairs.
Speaking with the BBC Somali Service, Mahdi said the objective of their talk with the Ethiopian government is to end the conflict of the region and to get the Ogaden Somalis for their right of Self-determination.
The Ethiopian delegation led by the defense minister Siraj Fegassa and ONLF’s led by Abdirahman Mahdi held a third round of peace talk on Monday.
Former Kenya Defense Minister, Senator Yusuf Haji and Igad’s Ambassador Mohamed Abdi Afey are acting as mediators of the ONLF-Ethiopia peace-talk.
Kenya-brokered peace talks between ONLF and Ethiopia stalled in October 17, 2012 following ONLF’s refusal to accept a pre-condition imposed by Ethiopian negotiation team, which was a violation to the initial agreement.
The ONLF was founded in 1984 and it has been engaging with armed struggle against the Ethiopian troops stationed in Ogaden ever since the government cracked down its parliament members after they overwhelmingly voted yes for self-determination in 1994.
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Ogaden borders Djibouti, Oromia, Kenya and Somalia . The people are predominantly ethnic Somali and Muslims. The region was Italian and English-colony until 1954 and later handed over to Ethiopia by the British.
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The ONLF has been diminished militarily and politically in the past five years, and is under pressure from its constituency to chart an alternative way. There are also indications that the ONLF is willing to accept the Ethiopian constitution as a framework for future peace talks and political reforms in the Somalia Regional State. This would represent a significant concession.
While the ONLF believes that Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn wishes to pursue his predecessor Meles Zenawi’s initiative in seeking a political solution to the Ogaden conflict, but the government’s security and intelligence branches may not support this goal.
Over the years, the Ogaadeeni rebels have successfully popularized the notion among their community—within and outside Ethiopia—that the political problems of the Ogaden can only be resolved with a plebiscite. So the ONLF seeks what the Ethiopian constitution promises but the ruling Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which drafted that constitution, will not agree to: a referendum on self-determination. To remain credible in the eyes of its supporters, the ONLF will have to work towards a peace agreement that allows for increased regional autonomy, the best alternative to the referendum.
As the stronger negotiating party, Ethiopia has more to gain and less to lose from the peace talks. The ONLF is primarily interested in peace, which would bolster its standing in the eyes of supporters weary of conflict. The Ethiopian government is more interested in a deal that neutralizes the already weakened Ogaadeeni insurgency, deprives its arch-enemy Eritrea of a proxy, and prepares the ground for more investments and oil exploration in the Ogaden region.
The Ethiopian delegation to the peace talks has been dominated by members of the security apparatus close to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party at the core of federal power in the Ethiopia since 1991.
The forced abduction of two ONLF delegates from Nairobi to Ethiopia in January 2014 has cast doubt on the Ethiopian government’s sincerity in terms of its commitment to continuing its negotiations with the ONLF. We will see how this third round of talks will end.
– Tobias Hagmann