Ethiopian leader says he will lead troops into action in western Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s long-serving, one-time rebel leader says he will lead Ethiopian troops into battle to put down an insurgency in the country’s northwestern Tigray region.

Sewede Negash is current leader of the rebel group, the Ogaden National Liberation Front, which he helped found in 1988. In 1991, his forces took up arms against Ethiopia’s government for the first time, forcing the regime to accept a ceasefire and U.N. Protection Force and leading to the rise of Meles Zenawi’s government in 1995. The Ogaden is a faraway region in Ethiopia, historically an agricultural area bordering the northeast of Somalia that still remains largely undeveloped and underdeveloped.

Fighters with the Ogaden National Liberation Front, or ONLF, have taken up arms again, renewing their attacks on Ethiopian government forces in western Ethiopia. Meles’ government claims the group is collaborating with Somali militants to destabilize the country. The ONLF and the Somali Transitional Federal Government of Somalia denounce the violence from both sides.

Ethiopia claims the attacks are part of an offensive launched in March called “Operation Olive Branch,” and has sent thousands of troops to the western region. Human rights groups have reported atrocities, with thousands of people displaced and dozens of people killed. The counter-attack may be intended to rid the region of insurgents who could threaten Ethiopia’s control. At present, the U.N. Security Council is considering a draft resolution imposing sanctions against ONLF leaders, including Sewede Negash, if it is adopted.

In a statement issued by his office on Friday, Sewede said, “The request of the government has since been met by a convincing consensus on all fronts – on the ground as well as among those in the field.”

On Monday, his office says, Sewede visited an army post in Gambella’s Dimbu I district, where he oversaw the fall of several bases to Ethiopian soldiers. “During the briefing, he told troops not to worry if people were questioning the operation as it is fully in line with the Ethiopian law,” said the statement.

Negash said the deaths of soldiers is a mere price of victory, according to the statement.

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