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Ethiopian gov’t, Oromo rebel group begin talks in Zanzibar

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Ethiopia’s federal government and a rebel group from the country’s Oromia region have opened peace talks on Tuesday in the Tanzanian island archipelago of Zanzibar, according to a spokesperson for the militants.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced the talks with the Oromo Liberation Army, or OLA, on Sunday at an event to celebrate a cease-fire, signed in November, with another rebel group from the northern Tigray region.

Odaa Tarbii, the OLA’s spokesperson, told The Associated Press that the Oromia talks began on Tuesday morning and are expected to last until Thursday.

“I want to clarify these are preliminary talks meant to pave the way for comprehensive negotiations in the very near future,” Odaa said. “The focus, for now, is confidence building and clarifying positions.”

This week’s talks are being mediated by Norway and Kenya, according to Odaa. He said the European Union, the United States and a regional bloc known as IGAD are expected to be “part of the process going forward” if they are successful.

A spokesperson for Ethiopia’s federal government didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The government’s negotiating team in Zanzibar includes Justice Minister Gedion Timotheos and Redwan Hussein, the prime minister’s national security adviser, according to the Oromo Legacy Leadership and Advocacy Association, a U.S.-based civic group.

Redwan led the negotiating team that agreed on the cease-fire with the Tigray rebels.

Abiy announced the formation of a “committee” to open talks with the OLA while addressing parliament late last month.

The OLA is listed as a terrorist group by Ethiopia’s parliament and has been accused of widespread atrocities, including a massacre of hundreds of villagers in June.

It denies the allegations and says it is fighting for greater autonomy for the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s biggest group, who claim a historical sense of marginalization within the country’s federal system.

Ethiopia’s federal military, regional Oromia forces and rival ethnic militias from the neighbouring Amhara region have also been accused of human rights abuses during the Oromia conflict.

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