The Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) insists its a wholly Somali group and not an Ethio-Somali organization. It said via its known Twitter handle that it was a ‘Somali organisation fighting for the rights of all Somali people living under Ethiopian occupation!’
The group was reacting to one of Somalia’s leading radio outlet, Radio Dalsan, which in a tweet accompanied by a photo of the group’s leader wrote: Ethio-Somali organisation ONLF demands apology from Somalia govt.
The tweet added a quote attributed to ONLF, “We call on the President to repeal the decision of the Somali Cabinet Ministers labelling ONLF a terrorist organisation, and to offer a full apology to Abdikarin Sh Muse & all Somali people” via @ONLFofficial.
The group in an earlier tweet said it welcomed a request by the Somali president Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo to meet its chairman.
They further demanded that a terrorist label slapped on it by Somali Council of Ministers be repealed and an apology granted to its leader and the people of Somalia.
According to its website, the group describes itself as “a national liberation organisation that struggles for the rights of the Somali people in Ogaden and has no involvement whatsoever in Somalia’s multifaceted conflict at all.”
The arrest and repatriation of its leader Abdikarim Muse Qalbi Dhagah in August 2017 sparked widespread condemnation of the government. He was, however, released in June this year by the Ethiopian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Most rights groups expressed worry that his transfer to Addis Ababa whiles illegal under international law could potentially expose him to torture and humiliation given that members of the group were classed ‘terrorists.’
Here are some key facts about the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) rebels:
- Formed in 1984 amid a resurgence of separatist sentiment in the ethnically Somali Ogaden region on Ethiopia’s border with Somalia, many of its first members supported Mogadishu in its failed war with Addis Ababa over the region in the late 1970s.
- Ethiopia accuses the ONLF of being terrorists supported by arch-foe and neighbor Eritrea, and launched an unprecedented offensive last year after a rebel attack on a Chinese-run oil field that killed more than 70 people.
- The insurgents’ aims have varied over time, ranging from full-scale independence to joining a “Greater Somalia”, to more autonomy within ethnically diverse Ethiopia.
- ONLF fighters, who do not wear uniforms and are estimated to number several thousand, take advantage of their close ties with the area’s largely nomadic communities. After hit-and-run attacks on military convoys, they often melt into villages and hide among herders when counter-attacks are threatened.
- The Ogaden region is almost entirely populated by Muslim, Somali-speakers. The region has kept its own distinctive identity, doing the bulk of its trade with Somaliland, Somalia and the Middle East rather than the rest of “highland” Ethiopia.
- The separatist cause has been fuelled by widespread resentment at the region’s low level of development. Until Chinese engineers arrived late last year, the entire region had only 30 km (20 miles) of tarmac road, all of it around the regional capital Jijiga. The area has also been battered by a succession of droughts and floods.