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«Talking Peace in the Ogaden The search for an end to conflict in the Somali Regional State in Ethiopia Hagmann, Tobias Publication date: Document ...»

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Eritrea The ONLF’s most important ally in the Horn of Africa is Eritrea, which has been hosting both ONLF leaders and rank-and-file fighters. Though analysts agree that Eritrea is the main governmental supplier of arms to the ONLF,84 there is only fragmentary information available on the exact details of this support. Eritrea’s chief foreign policy objective has been to undermine the stability of Ethiopia by encouraging and actively supporting Ethiopian insurgent movements. Supporting the ONLF weakens Ethiopia by keeping the Ethiopian government preoccupied with political tension in the SRS, potentially a second front in Eritrea’s proxy war.

83 Gebre, a veteran TPLF commando, was Meles Zenawi’s right-hand man on Somalia and was Head of Intelligence during the 2006–8 Ethiopian campaign in the country.

He was then seconded to the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) as political advisor to the Office of the Facilitator for Somalia Peace and Reconciliation.

84 Jane’s Defence Weekly, ‘Ogaden National Liberation Front’, April 2009.

OTHER STAkEHOLDERS 55 Eritrea’s external intelligence agency has been directly involved in supporting this effort: it has handled day-to-day relations with the ONLF, held some of the internal dissent within it in check, and tightly controlled the ONLF’s leadership. Eritrea hosts ONLF leaders and provides the front with training as well as logistical and military support. The Eritrean government’s external intelligence wing coordinates logistical arrangements, especially deliveries of weapons and ammunition, and supervises training programs. It also corresponds with ONLF operatives via encrypted e-mail messages and helps them to travel to Asmara via Kenya. Sources disagree, however, on the degree of Eritrea’s financial commitment to the ONLF.

The military training of ONLF soldiers in Eritrean military facilities was another important aspect of Eritrea’s support. One report from 2003 claimed that ‘between 700 and 1,200 ONLF recruits’ were being trained in the Kalena and Addis Maskal training camps in Eritrea, from where ‘a batch consisting of 100 men divided into three sub-groups was planned to infiltrate into Ethiopia through Djibouti and then Somaliland.’85 Intelligence on the location and strength of Ethiopian bases, troop movements and lines of communications were passed to the ONLF by Eritrea’s external intelligence and proved vital in several high-profile military operations. Eritrean military advisers are widely assumed to have helped prepare the most famous ONLF attack at Abole.86 There are claims on the part of Ethiopia that the Eritrean embassy in Djibouti served for many years as a conduit for logistical support and that Eritrean-trained forces were infiltrated into Somaliland via Djibouti or the Red Sea. A significant number of ONLF fighters who had been transiting Somaliland to fight in Ethiopia were arrested in December 2003 and in 2010.

85 Somaliland Times, ‘Eritrea Providing Military Training for Hundreds of ONLF Fighters’, Issue 98, 2003.

86 ISN Security Watch, ‘Ethiopia’s Ogaden Insurgency Threat’, 21 December 2009.

56 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN More recently, concerns have been raised about the safety of ONLF fighters remaining in Eritrea, should the ONLF reach a peace deal with Ethiopia, depriving Eritrea of this proxy war.

7. Talking peace in the Ogaden Before they held direct talks in 2012, the ONLF and the Ethiopian government had made several attempts to resolve their conflict peacefully. The first public peace conference took place in January and February 1995 just one year after the fall-out between the ONLF and the EPRDF-led government. The result of the peace conference was the split in the ONLF mentioned above, leading Ethiopia to declare a ‘legal ONLF’, with some 20 ONLF members, including Bashir Abdi Hassan, joining the SRS parliament.87 In 1998, contacts between the Ethiopian military and the ONLF were established in order to explore new peace negotiations. These behind-the-scenes manoeuvres came to an abrupt end when the ONLF’s negotiation team—consisting of two central committee members and a military commander, Deg Abdi Rasin—were killed by the Ethiopian army somewhere on the Ogaadeeni plateau.

While it is likely that informal exchanges between the two parties continued after 1998, the next attempt to initiate peace talks came some while later in 2005, when a delegation of Ogaadeeni elders attempted to facilitate talks. The elders relayed several messages between the ONLF vice-chairman in the region and the prime minister’s office. Their mediation attempt was, however, unsuccessful, as the two parties could not agree either on the location of the talks, the presence (or absence) of a third party, or on the involvement of the Ogaadeeni elders themselves.88 The Ethiopian government capitalized on this mediation attempt, sending the elders on a tour abroad where they met with the Ogaadeeni diaspora, creating the false impression that the ONLF was to blame for the stalled initiative.

87 Matt Bryden, ‘Peace and Unity Conference of the Somali Nation of Region 5’, Addis Ababa, UN Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia, 1995.

88 For a detailed chronology see Hagmann, ‘Fishing for Votes’, pp. 70–83.

58 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN The Ethiopian government signed a much-publicized peace agreement in October 2010 with a small breakaway ONLF faction headed by former central committee member Salahadin Maow. He had promised to bring along some 1,500 fighters, but few of them materialized, leaving him at loggerheads with Abdi Mohamed. Consequently, the ONLF described the peace agreement as a charade and an indication of the lack of genuine commitment on the part of the Ethiopian government.

In a related move, the UWSLF, the small rebel group consisting of former al-Ittihad and WSLF fighters led by Sheikh Ibrahim Dheere, signed a peace agreement with the Ethiopian government in June 2010. This peace deal allowed a couple of hundred Reer Abdille members of the UWSLF to return to the region, where many took up business opportunities. Many observers see this agreement as an important blueprint for a possible accord between the ONLF and the Ethiopian government.89 At the end of 2013, the ONLF and the Ethiopian government insisted they were willing to strive for an end to their conflict on the basis of negotiations. Major stumbling blocks remained, however, including a prevailing mutual lack of trust, and residual reservations, perhaps, about whether to allow Kenya, or anyone, a role as facilitator. Prior to Kenya’s involvement, the Ethiopian government had been keen to avoid adding an international dimension to negotiations by involving outsiders.

Initiating direct talks Several accounts exist of how the 2012 peace talks between the Ethiopian government and the ONLF were agreed upon, and who it was who took the initiative to push for them.

The first version was that, after a request made by Meles Zenawi to the Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki, Ethiopian officials sounded out 89 Vaughan, ‘Analysis of Peacebuilding’.

TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN 59 Kenyan officials, including a Kenyan Somali sympathetic to the ONLF, Farah Malim.90 The second version, and one dominant in Ogaadeeni circles in Nairobi, was that the Ethiopian government first contacted Yusuf Haji, a former Kenyan defence minister, and Yusuf Hassan, MP for Kamukunji, a Nairobi constituency containing the Somali-dominated suburb of Eastleigh.

They then made contact with the ONLF, which agreed to allow them to approach the Ethiopian government. The ONLF insisted that they should not do so privately, but in the name of the Kenyan government.

Ethiopia acceded and officially requested the Kenyan government to facilitate direct talks.

Another account put forward by some Ogaadeeni intellectuals is that senior Kenyan Ogaadeenis sought to allay Ethiopia’s worries about Kenya’s military intervention in southern Somalia, by helping persuade the ONLF to give up fight against Ethiopia. The architects of this plan were said to have visited Addis Ababa and pitched the idea to Meles himself.

Once underway, a number of factors converged to persuade the ONLF and the Ethiopian government to meet directly. The ONLF’s military situation was increasingly difficult, some Kenyan Somalis wanted a settlement in the Ogaden in order to capitalize on Kenya’s presence in southern Somalia, and Ethiopia saw an opportunity to end a longrunning insurgency on its eastern periphery at last.

Round 1: 6–7 September 2012 Following several months of preparations and preliminary discussions between the Kenyans and the parties, the ONLF and the Ethiopian government met for the first time in Nairobi on 6 and 7 September 2012.

90 Farah Malim has a reputation among Somalis as a nationalist and was seen as sympathetic to the ONLF struggle. As an Ogaadeeni intellectual described it, Ethiopia had ‘played the right card’ by approaching him.

60 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN The meeting took place shortly after Meles’s death while the EPRDF was busy reshuffling its leadership and organizing his succession.

The Ethiopian delegation was led by their defence minister, Siraj Fegessa, and consisted of five senior military and intelligence officials, including Brigadier General Gebre Adhana, head of the military intelligence department. It was observed early on that the general appeared to outrank the minister.91 The ONLF delegation was led by its foreign secretary, Abdirahman Mahdi, and included six senior ONLF officials, including one military commander, and Mahmoud Ugas, of the Ogaden Human Rights Committee. The first round of talks revealed that the ONLF had come to the talks better prepared than their counterparts. It also revealed the inexperience of the Kenyan facilitation team.

The two days were used to clarify the role of the Kenyans with the Ethiopian delegation insisting that Kenya act as a facilitator, not a mediator, a demand to which the ONLF eventually conceded. In return, the Ethiopian delegation accepted the ONLF’s proposed agenda for the actual talks. The delegates discussed at length the name of the region, which the ONLF calls ‘Ogaden’ while Ethiopia prefers ‘Somali Regional State’ or ‘Somali kilil’. More importantly, the two parties agreed that no preconditions would hamper future talks and that major conflict issues would be thoroughly discussed under the headings of politics, security, humanitarian access, economy, and resource sharing.

Both parties also agreed on the need for a peaceful resolution of the conflict and to meet again. They agreed that talks would be exclusively between the federal government and the ONLF. This was received with a great deal of interest in the region and beyond: it raised hopes that a genuine and lasting peace might be possible in eastern Ethiopia. In the words of one ONLF delegation member: ‘The first round [of talks] was very good!’.92

–  –  –

Round 2: 15–17 October 2012 The second round of talks occurred a little over a month later. Major General Abraha Wolde Mariam, head of the eastern command, joined the Ethiopian delegation, having been too preoccupied with the burial of Meles and the subsequent political transition in Ethiopia to attend the first. With the exception of one delegate, the ONLF delegation was the same. But while the ONLF had brought position papers to the negotiating table, the Ethiopian delegation adopted an antagonistic approach, insisting on preconditions.

On the first day, the Ethiopian delegation declared that Ethiopia consisted of different ethnically defined political entities (kilils) and that as one of them, the SRS government should therefore also participate in the talks. To the surprise of both the Kenyan facilitation team and the ONLF—and in contradiction to earlier agreements—the Ethiopian delegation brought Mowlid Hayer, an SRS civil servant and confidant of President Abdi Mohamed along. The ONLF rejected him, along with the idea of negotiating with representatives from what they considered ‘their’ region. After a number of exchanges, it was decided that the talks would continue without the SRS representative.

On the second day, the Ethiopian delegation abruptly demanded that the ONLF accept the Ethiopian constitution before negotiations could continue. The ONLF replied by demanding that Ethiopia allow the holding of an internationally monitored referendum. The ONLF also argued that the Ogaden conflict predated the 1995 constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE), and could thus not be solved by their endorsement of the constitution. The delegations agreed to a Kenyan suggestion to reduce the number of delegates to three from each side while plenary discussions continued. According to one ONLF delegation member interviewed for this report, the Ethiopians used these more private talks to invite the ONLF to ‘come back to the region and join us’.

As neither side was willing to move, the confrontation came to a climax on the third day, when the Ethiopian delegation stood up and 62 TALkINg PEACE IN THE OgADEN waved the blue booklet of the FDRE constitution, threatening to leave the talks if the ONLF did not accept it as a framework for the negotiations. As a face-saving measure, the Kenyan team cobbled together a joint statement that reaffirmed the willingness of both parties to keep

working for a peaceful solution. The Ethiopians were not interested:

instead they withdrew to have lunch at the Ethiopian embassy, effectively bringing the talks to a halt.

If intransigence scuttled the second round of talks, different interpretations have been made of it. The ONLF delegation claimed that the Ethiopians had never had any intention of negotiating in good faith, because they had no mandate to do so. In other words, while the first Ethiopian delegation had met with the ONLF in pursuit of Meles Zenawi’s personal agenda, by the time the second round came along, that mandate to push the talks further had disappeared with the death of Meles.

Others, including the author of this report, see the Ethiopian demand to accept the constitution as a coded invitation to the ONLF to surrender.

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