Rebels who returned to Ethiopia last year accused the army of targeting them with airstrikes after they called for the renegotiation of a peace deal with the government.
The Oromo Liberation Front, led by Dawud Ibsa, condemned the alleged attacks in a western part of Ethiopia by “airstrike and other methods.” The helicopter raids at the weekend damaged buildings and forced people to flee to nearby forests, said Falmata Jamal, a resident in Oromia state’s Gidami district.
“The government has to stop the killing of innocent people without any precondition,” the OLF said in a statement on its Facebook page, without giving a death toll. A spokesman for the Oromia regional government dismissed the claims as “propaganda” and said the federal army was in the area “to work on rule of law.”
The local Addis Standard website reported Sunday that the army had conducted airstrikes targeting OLF training camps in the region, citing an unidentified member of the military. An army spokesman, Mohammed Tessema, declined to comment.
Another Gidami resident, Jalata Tura, said by phone that he saw strikes by at least two helicopters.
The claims point to the hazards of a historic political opening in Ethiopia, Africa’s most populous nation after Nigeria, as previously banned groups compete with entrenched parties for places in the country’s once tightly controlled political scene. Oromos comprise the largest of the country’s more than 80 ethnic groups.
Ethiopia’s government has stepped up the army’s presence in a border area between Oromia and Benishangul-Gumuz regional states since mid-December, creating an effective state of emergency. Houses were burned and banks robbed by unidentified armed men in six districts of Oromia’s Western Wollega Zone on Sunday, the state-owned Oromo Broadcasting Corp. reported the following day.
Leaders of the OLF, formerly listed as a terrorist group by the government, returned to Ethiopia in September and the organization commands considerable influence in western Oromia. An OLF spokesman had previously said it reached an understanding with Ethiopia’s government during talks in Eritrea that its armed wing wouldn’t be dispersed.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has promised multiparty democracy, while some revived opposition groups are now calling for greater regional autonomy amid myriad disputes and conflicts across the country.