The authorities launched a major crackdown on suspected Oromo rebels in November, arresting about 100 people, including members of the Oromo Federal Democratic Movement (OFDM) and the Oromo People's Congress (OPC)—both legal parties with seats in parliament—as well as academics and businessmen. Those detained, including Bekele Jirata, the OFDM secretary-general, are accused of supporting or financing the outlawed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), which has waged a low-level military campaign against the government for more than a decade and is backed by Eritrea, Ethiopia's arch-rival. The arrests coincided with a warning by the National Intelligence and Security Service about a possible terrorist attack and the killing of an alleged OLF chief, Legesse Wegi, in a reportedly unrelated incident. About half of the detainees remain in prison, without charge, which is raising human rights concerns. The clampdown on Oromo activism is nothing new, but the scale of the arrests—and the relatively high-profile personalities involved—is more surprising. This is especially true in view of the efforts being made by three designated Oromo elders to kick-start negotiations between the OLF and the government, which gained momentum earlier this year following initial contact between the elders and OLF leaders in the Netherlands. Moreover, in November a gathering of 125 Oromo elders endorsed the peace initiative, while 44 alleged OLF activists were freed from prison and pardoned—just as the latest wave of arrests was taking place. The government is clearly employing a two-pronged "carrot and stick" approach to the Oromo (Ethiopia's largest ethnic group), to encourage the moderates and isolate the radicals. Reinforcing this message, Mr Meles, as part of the latest reshuffle, promoted two OPDO officials, Shiferaw Jarso and Mukhtar Kedir, to his inner circle of advisers for the first time. However, the latest arrests, and the generally heavy-handed treatment of Oromos who do not support the ruling party, risk fuelling discontent.
The political scene: Ethiopia announces withdrawal from Somalia
Ethiopia now says that it will withdraw its forces from Somalia by the end of 2008, two years after entering the country to support the Transitional Federal Government in its battle with the Union of Islamic Courts. The withdrawal threat could be a bluff with three aims: to spur the Somali government to end damaging infighting; to pressure the Africa Union (AU) to speed up the dispatch of peacekeepers to bolster the weak African Mission in Somalia (AMISOM); and to secure greater military assistance from the US. However, the perception is growing that Ethiopia is wearying of the conflict, especially as radical Islamists in the al-Shabaab militia are gaining in strength. It is also possible that Mr Meles is uncertain about the commitment of the incoming US administration. Ethiopia's incursion into Somalia has as much to do with Ethiopian security as Somalian security, and is especially intended to forestall the spread of rebellion to Ethiopia's Somali region. But the long-running clampdown in the Somali region (and more recently against the OLF) suggests that the government's alternative strategy is to secure its own borders in the event of a pullout from Somalia. It is also possible that any Ethiopian withdrawal will prove to be temporary. The situation remains fluid, and further fighting in Somalia is certain, whatever Ethiopia decides to do.
Source: Sudan Tribune