Former rebels belonging to Ethiopia’s Ogaden National Liberation Front, ONLF, on Wednesday returned to the country from their base in neighbouring Eritrea.
The contingent were flown from Asmara to Jijiga, capital of the Somali Regional State, SRS by an Ethiopian Airlines flight. They were received with cultural displays upon their arrival at the airport.
ONLF’s known Twitter handle earlier on Wednesday tweeted photos from Jijiga where they were being awaited by residents of SRS. “Somali people in Jijiga and the regional army prepare to welcome ONLA special forces from Asmara,” the tweet read.
The group’s spokesperson had told the Voice of America’s Somali service on Monday that they were returning to Ethiopia. The return forms part of a peace deal reached with the federal government.
The group in mid-November signed a peace deal with the Ethiopian federal government in Asmara, where they have been based.
As part of the deal “The two sides have reached a historical agreement regarding the political rights of the people from Somali Regional State and genuinely addressing the root causes of the conflict between ONLF and the Ethiopian government,” ONLF said in a tweet.
As at the last meeting, there was also the announcement of a joint committee established for further discussions. The first round of talks between the two parties was in September this year. Months earlier the Ethiopian parliament had struck them off a list of terrorist organizations whiles they also called a ceasefire.
BREAKING: ONLF rebel fighters receive huge welcome in Somali regional capital, Jigjiga after departing from Asmara, Eritrea, earlier Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/bgPNKDX0UG— Harun Maruf (@HarunMaruf) November 21, 2018
Key facts about the ONLF rebels:
- Group was formed in 1984 amid a resurgence of separatist sentiment in the ethnically Somali Ogaden region on Ethiopia’s border with Somalia.
- Ethiopia had accused the ONLF of being terrorists supported by Eritrea, and launched a military offensive against the group.
- The military action followed a rebel attack on a Chinese-run oil field that killed more than 70 people.
- The insurgents’ aims have varied over time, ranging from full-scale independence to joining a “Greater Somalia”, to more autonomy within ethnically diverse Ethiopia.
- ONLF fighters, who do not wear uniforms and are estimated to number several thousand.
- They take advantage of their close ties with the area’s largely nomadic communities.
- After hit-and-run attacks on military convoys, they often melt into villages and hide among herders when counter-attacks are threatened.
About the Ogaden region
The Ogaden region is almost entirely populated by Muslim, Somali-speakers. The region has kept its own distinctive identity, doing the bulk of its trade with Somaliland, Somalia and the Middle East rather than the rest of “highland” Ethiopia.
The separatist cause has been fuelled by widespread resentment at the region’s low level of development.
Until Chinese engineers arrived late last year, the entire region had only 30 km (20 miles) of tarmac road, all of it around the regional capital Jijiga. The area has also been battered by a succession of droughts and floods.