Written by Staff Writer by Chris Welch, CNN
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn says he will lead his army on the front lines against rebels he accuses of seizing Ethiopia’s two main regions and slaughtering many civilians.
In a televised speech Saturday evening, Desalegn said he had ordered state security forces to “destroy the rebels’ momentum” and defend the areas held by the authorities.
The conflict has taken the death toll to more than 800 people, he said, adding that the rebels had been sent a formal peace-offer from the government.
Government forces killed or captured five high-ranking leaders and tens of thousands of sympathizers since April 1, according to sources within the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an ethnic Oromo-led rebel group which launched an attack in the Oromia region on April 1.
One source close to the OLF told CNN that the group was not involved in the April attack and had not yet reacted to Desalegn’s assertion that the government had set them up.
Protesters angered by the government’s annexation of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples (SNNP) region in 2012 had joined the OLF. However, a senior OLF official told CNN in April that the group was not involved in the April attack.
Ethiopia’s 10 million Oromos are the country’s largest ethnic group, who dominate the Oromo Liberation Front.
Last month, Oromos took to the streets of the capital Addis Ababa, killing civilians and police officers, according to the United Nations. Authorities have since imposed a curfew and closed most schools.
“If the government interferes in the Oromo people’s peace, the security forces will deal with those who are planning to betray the nation,” Desalegn said, in an apparent reference to the ruling party.
“It is important to remind that the main Oromo people’s core struggle is against the Oromo flagbearer, Ethiopia and the Ethiopian nation’s legal nationalism.”
In Ethiopia, the flagbearer refers to the ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
The Prime Minister said his government was sending 5,000 troops to the region where fighting is taking place, and that local officials were being sent to the sites to help.