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A briefing by the OLF-OLA commander Jaal Marro Diriba on 2nd round of peace talks

Published May 3, 2024, 5:35 a.m. by FNN

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The OLF-OLA met with the Ethiopian government for a 2nd time in Tanzania. The OLF-OLA higher commander Jaal Marro Diriba and his deputy Jaal Gamechu Aboye directly participated in the 2nd round peace negotiation.

 Oromia National Media (ONM) conducted an interview with Jaal Marro in Afaan Oromo regarding the peace talks. Jaal Marro addressed several questions posed by ONM, including inquiries about the negotiation atmosphere, encountered challenges, initial expectations for concluding a peace deal, outcomes that must be clarified to the Oromo populace, and insights gained from the peace talks proceedings.

Jaal Marro Diriba

As it was reported some of our comrades had traveled to Tanzania for negotiation. As to your question whether we believed that we could resolve the political problem through negotiation, to be honest whether we believed we could resolve the political problem through negotiation or not we had to participate in the negotiation to explore whether there was a chance. Our participation was driven by our desire to resolve the problem of our people. 

As long as the tyrannical government showed an interest in round table negotiation to resolve the problem, there is no problem with our participation. Despite our initial recourse to armed struggle due to the government's failure to address the human rights demands of our people, we find it imperative to seize any opportunity for peaceful resolution that presents itself. Regardless of our personal beliefs, if there exists even a remote chance to alleviate the plight of our people, it is incumbent upon us to pursue it, as our ultimate goal is the resolution of our people's grievances. Regardless of our confidence in the success of the peace talks, there was no loss in seizing any opportunity to negotiate for the realization of the Oromo people’s human rights demands.

There were mediators who have been shuttling between the two sides for over two years.

Concerning the process of the negotiation and what our people should know about it, the negotiation process started a while ago. The mediators have been pushing for negotiations on the complex problems of the country and specially on resolving the problems that involve the great Oromo nation. There were mediators who have been shuttling between the two sides for over two years. At that moment, the tyrannical regime had closed the door of peaceful negotiation to resolve problems for sometime and the peace talks were made possible only when after several attempts the regime decided to try to meet.  However, while the chance for negotiation opened, the country was engulfed in the  war between the current tyrannical Ethiopian government and the former tyrannical TLPF. We were also in the war as we have been fighting with the regime prior to the war and up to now. After that war, there was a lot of effort to bring a peace deal between the tyrannical regime and TPLF. We were also invited to participate in that peace talks. There were also other groups.  As we have made a coalition with TPLF and other fronts, there was also a call for members of the coalition to participate. But that did not happen. There were issues that could not be considered together in that situation. First, the problem of the Oromo people and that of the northern people are not similar. What we are demanding are quite different. 

The second is, it is known that the origin of our political problem and that of the Tigray people are not similar. The situation in Tigray at that time was very difficult in terms of the war and those who participated in the war and the famine that resulted in the massacre of the Tigrayan people. Other entities such as the Eritrean government entered the country and along with those who called themselves Amhara forces and the federal government, worsened the war, encircled and put the Tigray people in siege. In this situation,  the negotiation with  the OLF-OLA and its struggle was different and the occasion was not conducive to bring the two issues to the same negotiation and the Tigray war was considered urgent and needed a priority to resolve. Because of that and as they also wanted to get out of that emergency situation immediately, it was considered difficult to resolve multiple different problems simultaneously.  Therefore, it was believed that solutions should be sought sequentially and priority was given to the Tigray People.

 

Abiy Ahmed claimed he would resolve the conflict in a short amount of time. With the dream of
rapidly resolving the conflict in various areas, he broke his promises, rejected the peace
talks and turned his face to the war.  

Then, as soon as the Northern War ended in that manner, further processes began to be set in motion. If one asks why, we knew what was going on, there were a lot of issues including why the peace agreement was signed, was it a peace agreement, were there any undisclosed aspects or agreements related to the Pretoria Peace Agreement besides what has been shared with the public, and what was implemented. 

Despite the fact that about a million people perished in the war in Oromia, the government called it “a security problem and disorder that arose while the government moblized to resolve the war in the north and that there was no other war”. Abiy Ahmed broke his promises to the ambassadors and diplomats about resolving the conflict through a peace process and he claimed he would resolve the conflict in a short amount of time. With the dream of rapidly resolving the conflict in various areas, he broke his promises, rejected the peace talks and turned his face to the war.  

It was a difficult time for most of the Oromo Liberation Army and the friends of the Oromo people's freedom struggle. In contrast it was also a time of joy for the people and groups who wished for the elimination of the Oromo Liberation Army. So, when frieds worried that the OLA may not withstand the government as it had recovered after  a lot of entaglment,  the enemies thought it was the time to eliminate the OLA. 

Despite Abiy Ahmed's desire to eliminate it, the Oromo Liberation Army is growing larger and
stronger in terms of weaponry, human resources, and problem-solving skills and capacity.

Such opposite ideas were rampant at the moment. There was neither worry nor joy. The war has continued until now. Despite the tyrannical regime’s desire to resolve everything by force and deployment of its largest forces against us, it couldn’t change anything. The Oromo Liberation Army has grown larger and stronger in terms of weaponry, human resources, and problem-solving skills and capacity.

The mediators, in their efforts to reconcile us, expressed, “This issue will not be resolved in its current manner. You must seek a peaceful resolution; you should not continue the war.  As the government was geneourous enough to find a solution to the northern war, it should be open minded in this case as well.” Being diplomats, they naturally employed diplomatic language.

The entire war campaign that the government waged against us, on the other hand, did not hurt us as they wished. The struggle that was sparked by the unmet demands for human rights of our people has only grown in scope and strength, compelling the regime to come to the negotiating table. The government failed to keep the promises it made to take time and orderly bring about peace and stability in different areas in the country. And the country was going to the abyss every day, so the regime was forced to come to a negotiation table to get out of it.

It was in this situation that we were asked to meet and negotiate. During the negotiation there were several difficult problems. Before the demands of the Oromo people could be tabled for negotiation, the regime came up with the agenda of disarming OLA. That was their only dream. They did not come with anyother agenda. Thus, it was difficult to find any agenda that could bring the two sides together. Let alone resolving the problems, it also became difficult to meet face to face.

The first leg of the 2nd round of peace talks was held in Geneva where PP demanded DDR. The OLF-OLA  delegates rejected that and proposed RRI.  Both agreed on RRI and the 2nd leg of the 2nd round proceeded in Tanzania to discuss the details  and implimentation of RRI but PP delegates reneged on their Geneva agreement.

It was in this situation that our team went and talked as much as possible. At least we were able to meet like this, so we decided not to waste this opportunity even if a peace deal was not achieved. The meeting itself was an understanding and we agreed that the Oromo people expected a lot from us; so, we concluded the round with an agreement to meet again. However, there was too much accusatory propaganda leading upto the 2nd round. That means the Oromo Liberation Front - Oromo Liberation Army withstood all that and was able to attend the second round negotiation. When the second round of talks arrived, there was a delegation of the Oromo Liberation Front-Oromo Liberation Army that travelled to Geneva before we met in Tanzania. In Geneva, they asked  us, “ the government is demanding you to disarm and you are refusing to disarm, how could we bring you together?” In Geneva, a discussion was held to lay out the roadmap of the negotiation in which the mediators took time and asked us what the thoughts of the  Oromo Liberation Army were, what we planned to say, and etc. 

It was after a trust was built among our Geneva delegates, the mediators and states that had their own interests in the horn of Africa region that we travelled to Tanzania for the negotiation. So there was a discussion in Geneva for nearly one month from October 16, 2023 to November 7, 2023 when we travelled to Tanzania. During the negotiationin in Geneva, the government said it had abundandoned its stubborn DDR  (disarmament, demobilization and reintegration) demand and an agreement was reached with a delegation of  the Oromo Liberation Front-Oromo Liberation Army. After an agreement was reached on this, to answer the question of how without disarmament the OLF-OLA can be part of the government in the country and answer the Oromo people’s human right demands, it was determined negotiation should be held between the military leaders in Tanzania.

Thus, to bring the victory that our delegates achieved in this negotiation to the finishline and finally to resolve other remaining problems, we were asked to travel to the venue in Tanziania. To tell the truth, the Oromo freedom struggle for many rounds has stumbled and revived, there were a lot of failures, and that was worrying.

We have been discussing this with my comrade Jaal Gamechu Aboye. When I asked  Jaal Gamechu Aboye what his thoughts were on this matter, Jaal Gamechu responded: "Well, as long as we have left our homes to pay sacrifices, this is a battlefield; we are fighters on the battlefield. On the battlefield, a fighter does not necessarily die only with gunshots. The Shinniga marytdome also happned in a similar situation. If possible, we will try to resolve the problem of our people not only through guns but through all means possible. If necessary and if a peaceful resolution seems impossible, we have left our homes to pay sacrifices and we are ready to pay sacrifices, so we will go.” We both agreed. That is how we decided both of us should go. The mediators briefed us on how the International Committee of Red Cross helicopters and airplanes would be rented and the journey proceeded. We reached a convincing agreement on how we would leave the country and how we would return and we travelled to Tanzania. 

We met with our friends from the delegation that was already there in Tanzania. When we sat to discuss with the dictatorial government, we enquantered unexpected issue. Something unexpected happened to us. The condition of the people we met was unexpected. It was confusing. They retorted back to their original demand of DDR despite an agreement being reached to drop the DDR demand and that this meeting was meant to lay a roadmap for how without disarmament the OLF-OLA would be integrated into the government. We already had plans of how to return to the field if the peacetalk would not end in agreement but their intention was to separate the Oromo Liberation Army and its leadership and had never been to seek a negotiated solution to the political problems. It was not for reconciliation. The mediators between us were disturbed. Our negotiation should have been on RRI not DDR meaning we have already rejected the disamrmament and reintegration into the society, the agreement was on RRI meaning reorientation, retraining and integration into the security sector or direct integration into the security. That meant you would be retrained and reoriented. There are different security structures in the institutions of the country, after that you will be integrated into those different structures. The reason we retrain is that the army is trained in a different way. The dictatorial government has its own agenda for which its forces are trained, and we have a purpose for which we train our army. So what we agreed on was on the roadmap to reorient, retrain and integrate. It was not only the OLA that would take the reorientation and retraining. We were unable to reach agreement on this. Who was going to do the retraining? What would the entrance to the training camp be? What would happen to the weapons of the OLA and that of the government forces when they enter the training camp? Who would store it? Who would hold the keys? When a training is given, what is the training? 

What the government always wants is to gather, encamp, train those it wants and release. We said that is not going to happen. We said we want to create a national force from both the forces of the government and our forces. We said the army should not be owned by the party or the government, it should be a national army. If you see now, the army in this country is the army of only the dictatorial government and serving the ruling party. The leaders of that party also say, “If we don't live, you won't live either, so be strong and fight.”  But that is not what the army of a country should be. Regardless of what party wins a seat in the government, the army should be a national army just like in other democratic countries. No matter which party is removed from power, no matter which party comes to power, the army will continue to exist. As it belongs to the country it will not be destroyed. But this is how they threaten their army. But it shouldn't be like that. Therefore, we have to make the army a national army; so, we have to retrain and integrate by facilitating the reorientation of the government forces as well as ours. For that to happen, we provided linkage, phase, and sequence. 

When the Oromo Liberation Army goes into training, thousands would not disarm and go into training at the same time. The reason we do this is because we have been betrayed a number of times by traitors; not because we like it but we have scars. It should definitely be like that. The process is, about half of them intermingle with the government army and undergo training. The training should not be the same as when the government was training. For example, the government trains its army to kill civilians and sit on their corpses, to decapitate people, and other similar things. 

But what we want to train is democracy, equality, protection of human rights, and professionalism. Let any kind of political party win the election and enter the parliament. If they want, they can take off their shoes and throw them at each other when in political power but the army's job is to maintain peace. Apart from that, the national army should not be biased. It does not support any political party. It doesn't support either the ruling party or the opposition party. When the ruling party and the opposition parties compete, it is the people who judge and choose the party that suits it, the army protects the country. It would be implimented according to the people’s choice. It is not the army that ensures the implimentation, there are democratic and legal institutions. Those are the institutions that work.That is what we tabled. But the tyrannical government did not like it. They said this is destroying the country. The truth is this will not distroy the country; it will in fact build the country. 

What they said beyond that is that “democracy does not come overnight”. They said, “Democracy will not come overnight in this backwarded society.” However, the people in this country are not backwarded. The backwarded in this country is the ruling group. 

On September 15, 2018, when millions of people welcomed the OLF leadership who came from Asmara, the police were not on the street even with butons let alone with guns. If you bring peace to the country and respect the rights of citzens, that is what the people want. And nothing can be more proof of that than that event. That is what happened. So the government’s perception that “democracy won't come overnight, it won't happen if you don't hold these backwarded people by force,” is a joke. This is making fun of people's wounds. 

As a result, it was not possible to reach an agreement. What we said was that when a portion of the army enters a camp and starts training or orientation, the government has to show political commitment. When we start traing portions of the army, the government is expected to open some offices for us.  We saidd, if we are allowed to talk to our people, if the army trains on one side and the government demonstrates political committment on the otherside and the implementation has phases, sequence, and interlinkages, it will enable us to move forward but they refused it. 

When they refused to accept this, the mediators were troubled; the government representatives rushed to their hotel rooms and closed the doors behind them.

We could not even find a way to talk to them. We could not have a way to present our thoughts. They said, “the constitution does not allow this”  to whatever we said, and ran away to their hotel rooms. They don’t even know what the constitution says. 

Birhanu Jula once gave a funny interview; very funny. He said, “he was invited here and there”, he was saying he was highly desirable. He made us laugh saying, “We have become the most popular and diserable force in the world”

And he said, “the Oromo Liberation Army does not know any international law”. Let alone the international law, when we cited this or that from their constitution, they said, “the constitution does not allow that”. When we told them what their constitution said, they didn't want to sit down and negotiate. They ran to their hotel rooms and closed the doors behind them. The negotiators became very confused. The government representatives gave them headaches. 

In the middle of this, they brought another issue. They said, “Let us remove the western mediators from between us, Abiy has a special message for you that you should receive.”  We said, we won’t accept the kind of two-year-olds candy bribery. Most of the people who were there knew nothing about the Oromo freedom struggle itself.  

Redwan Hussein tried to lure us saying, “for example, during the Tigrayan rule, I represented the Silte people and did this or that with the TPLF. Why don’t you become like Birhanu and Kajela?”   So, such were their negotiators who were there. It means that they don't even know the complexity of the country's problems. They were difficult to talk to. So, we decided to give them a five minutes informal time and asked them what the message was. When Jaal Game and I asked them, you said, Abiy has sent us a message. What are the messages?” They said, “ they don’t want to speak in front of the mediators.” We said, okay this is not going to be official and we sat with them separately. Then, when we asked them what the message was, they said, “Abiy said, your army would not disarm; bring it and let it join the ENDF and let us make an alliance and fight the Fano militants and the Eritrean government and we will give you positions.” That was very funny. They were playing a joke on the great Oromo nation. Abiy allied with Shabia and Fano to fight the Tigrayans. Now, they want the Oromo people to make an alliance with them and shed blood to fight their former allies.He was not going to fight, he was looking for ways to entrap us. 

The solution we proposed was meant to resolve the problem of the country including Fano. They perceived us to be the enemy of the Amhara people and they thought we would quickly fall into their trap. The government is controlling all the institutions of the country using the police, the army, and the security forces without any checks and balances. The roadmap we proposed to resolve the problem of the country was to rein in this unchecked power and establish necessary checks and balances. While you assert that “you cannot establish democracy overnight,” we said that you can begin practicing democracy immediately. You can start today. Therefore, efforts directed towards democratizing and liberating the country's institutions will lay the groundwork for lasting peace within the country. After we do that the people can vote for whomever they want. The Oromo freedom struggle will persist beyond this milestone. Once the institutions of the country become free from discrimination and the Oromo people are free, the Oromo people will continue their self-determination whether they want to continue with Ethiopia or establish their own country. We told them that the Oromo struggle will continue until that and wont stop with this kind of deception. 

After they heard this, they went back to their hotel and disappeared for about three days. Then, they sent the negotiators who came and went back. Then, after three days, when they heard there was nothing to do, the ambassadors were troubled so much and started to pressure the government.  They said to them, “come sit  down and negotiate. Tell them why you don’t want to accept their proposal.”  In response, what the government said was quite funny. They came up with propaganda and said, “the Oromo Liberation Army is asking for power. It is asking for power without even controlling a single  inch of land.”  On that day, by chance, the United States’ current ambassador to Ethiopia, Ambassador Masnigga, was among us.

Ambassador Massinga said, “Let us ignore the control of land. For example, I want to go outside Finfinne and drive my car to Entoto to breathe fresh air but I cannot do so for security reasons.” That was how he responded to them.That means the ambassador knew the status and strength of the Oromo Liberation Army. It means he knew the status of the security situation very well. Whether it was for their own national interest or whether it was due to their desire to resolve the problem, the United States was so serious that it was represented by two ambassadors in the mediation team.

After that, the mediators brought them and put them next to us. One evening around eleven o'clock, when we started presenting the roadmap we had on how the RRI will be put into operation, the ambassadors and observers who were among us, the parties who connected us, showed a great desire to reach a solution so that this discussion would not be interrupted and that this relationship would not be separated in a bad atmosphere. The mediators said if you can't even come to an agreement on things, the people are in big trouble and think about your people because they are suffering from disease and famine. There was a stage where they even said, “do a ceasefire agreement for humanitarian aid so that we can reach you with aid”. If the peace talks could not continue, we decided to continue to negotiate a ceasefire. But they could not stay with us even for five minutes.

They said, “The constitution does not allow it, and you are going to destroy the country, and if we agree with you about this, Fano will also ask us the same thing tomorrow, and we have no way to make this public, etc.,” and left the negotiation. We thought, as usual, they would gather and sitt down at their hotel and that we would meet again. While the ambassadors were sitting with us and we were waiting, that guy named Redwan Hussein posted a status update about the peace talks on X (formerly Twitter) in broken English, which looked like a blatant insult, putting an end to everything. 

The peace negotiation process in Tanzania looked like that. After that, they packed up that night and ran away. Because they interrupted the negotiation and ran away, the Oromo Liberation Front - Oromo Liberation Army could not do it alone.

We were ready to pay sacrifices for the sake of reconciliation, we said as long as the condition would improve for the Oromo people we would not fear death and passed through the airspace controlled by the dictatorial Ethiopian government and travelled for the negotiation. Comrades put their lives at risk saying death is not only by guns. Sacrifice is not only on the battlefield. As long as it brings peace to our people, we were not afraid to make sacrifices; there was nothing left except surrender. But surrender is unthinkable. It was for the Oromo struggle for freedom for which the Oromo people sacrificed their sons and daughters for so many years, for which many thousands were sacrificed and even our elders are humiliated to this day. Since the day they returned from Asmara for peace, so many are languishing in prison today and others are sacrificing their lives.  At least the regime could not cut off the fresh air that God gave them, but this dictator has cut off everything else from those in their homes; thus, there is no surrender and we have focused on continuing the next phase of our armed struggle.

Armed struggle destroys people’s lives, it destroys national resources, it scatters families, it strips the land, and makes the human lives miserable but the dictatorial government wanted these to continue and ran away from the peace talks. 

We saw Redwan’s X (Twitter) insults while we were there along with the ambassadors. It was Ambassador Mike Hammer who first saw it. We discussed that and there was despair about the peace talks. A ceasefire for one or two weeks for the delivery of humanitarian aid could not succeed. There were obligations that the government signed but it ran away like a child. Concerning the chance for future meetings and our return to the country, the mediators including the ICRC hoped if the ceasefire was achieved it would reduce the mistrust a little bit but the dictatorial government added more mistrust.   

They said, “the Oromo Liberation Army did not know international law” but let alone international law, they failed to abide by the protocol they signed during the negotiation. They didn't even know that, they ran away and refused the protocol they signed about our return to the country. When they said no, we didn’t beg them. We did everything expected of us and participated in the negotiations sponsored by several countries. Since the government reneged on the protocol it previously signed, we took the time and used the opportunity to work on some projects. We completed the projects, resolved some problems, discussed the future direction and returned to the field using our alternative initial plan.

There was no government, no border of Ethiopia was protected from north to south and returning to the field was not that a problem. There was no problem at all.  We returned to our military base based on our preplanned and well thought route and there was no problem getting back to our country. Let alone protecting the border, the existing  government is even unable to protect the neigborhood of their own homes.

So, this was how the negotiation concluded. 

Jaal Marroo Diriba. 
The interview was translated by FNN team. 


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