Exiled Ethiopian Opposition Group, ODF, Holds Talks With Government

(Reuters) – An exiled Ethiopian opposition party from the country’s restive Oromiya region said it had held talks with the government, a tentative step in its aim of returning to the political fold.

The talks on Friday and Saturday followed pledges by Ethiopia’s new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, to push through democratic reforms in the wake of unrest, mainly in the Oromiya region, that threatened the ruling coalition’s tight hold on Africa’s second most populous nation.

The Oromo Democratic Front (ODF) was formed in 2013 by former members of the secessionist Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) and seeks self-determination for ethnic Oromos, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. ODF leaders have been living in exile in Europe and North America since the early 1990s when OLF turned against the ruling coalition and was designated a “terrorist” group by the government.

“A high-level delegation of the government … and a delegation of the Oromo Democratic Front held a fruitful discussion, from May 11-12, 2018, regarding the reforms currently unfolding in Ethiopia,” the group said in a statement.

“Pursuant to its longstanding public position, the ODF reiterated its commitment to deepening and broadening the reforms and democratization process. The government delegation also expressed its enthusiasm to engage all those espousing non-violent means of struggle.”

It did not disclose where the talks were held but said they were the start of a wider engagement between the two sides, and it would soon send an “advance team” to the capital Addis Ababa for formal talks.

Government officials were not immediately available for comment.

The ODF previously held lower-level discussions with the government in 2015, but government officials declined to meet party leader Lencho Leta when he traveled to Ethiopia from his home in Norway for the talks.