Ethiopia has released opposition leaders from prison, state media say, as the government says it will begin talks with opposition politicians after 14 months of fighting after thousands were arrested.
The move to release various ethnic leaders is a major step forward since the outbreak of hostilities in northern Tigray, threatening the unity of Africa’s second-most populous country.
Some leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a party fighting the ousted Prime Minister Abi Ahmed, were among those released. They include Abay Weldu, the former president of the Tigreans, and Sebhat Nega, the founder of the TPLF.
“The key to lasting peace is dialogue,” said a statement from the government’s communications bureau. “Compassion is one of the moral obligations of success.”
The release list includes two senior Oromo political leaders: Bekele Gerba, a senior leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress Party and Jawar Mohammed, founder of the Oromia Media Network. The two men were charged in September 2020 with terrorism offenses.
Oromia is the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia and is the political center of Abiy. In Oromia, there is a long-running insurgency based on complaints of perceived political discrimination and violations of human rights by the security forces.
The released Amhara opposition leader was Eskinder Nega, leader of the opposition Balderas for Genuine Democracy.
Ethnic Somalis are not among the political prisoners to be released, as many are being held captive, including former Somali regional president Abdi Mohamud Omar and a 14-year-old boy. The release of political prisoners excluded from Somalia has sparked outrage on social media, accusing the regional administration of acting and contempt for Abi Ahmed’s government.
The Somali region has been a hotbed of conflict for the past 27 years, where the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) has been active.
The government’s move to release political prisoners was prompted by international pressure on the Ethiopian government, which could lead to initial reconciliation.
But I think the release of a small number of prisoners does not mean that the war in Ethiopia has stopped.