By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
August 2, 2010 (ADDIS ABABA) – A rebel organization that has been fighting for the independence of the ethnic Somali region of Ethiopia officially ended its two decade-long armed struggle by signing a peace deal last Thursday.
The breakthrough accord between the government of Ethiopia and the United Western Somali Liberation Front (UWSLF) was signed in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in the presence of high ranking government officials, diplomats, representatives of African Union and the United Nations.
The two sides have been engaged in various rounds of peace talks but the breakthrough came in April this year when UWSLF fighters agreed to lay down their arms.
Abay Tsehaye, national security advisor to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi who commended the peace accord, said Friday that his government is working to sign similar deals with other groups if they are willing to abide by the country’s constitution.
According to Tsehaye, the Ethiopian government has accepted the front’s pre-condition that amnesty be granted to the group’s leadership and member.
Senior leaders and supporters of the UWSLF who were in custody of the Ethiopian government have been freed as part of the deal.
After signing the accord, chairman of the front, Sheik Abdurahim Mohammed Hussein said the security problems in the region have been dragging the implementation of development activities in the region
The Sheik called on other rebel factions to follow the same path and enter peace negotiations with government for the good of the Somali people.
Diaspora community groups of Ethiopian Somalis from U.S. and Britain told Sudan Tribune last Friday that they endorsed the peace deal and expressed their support to efforts to bring other factions to the negotiation table.
The statement said the move is a major step forward in realizing national consensus and in boosting development and stability of the country.
The UWSLF is a rival of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, the strongest insurgency now active in the dominantly Somali ethnic Ogaden region in eastern Ethiopia.
The ONLF responded to the deal with a statementon its website claiming that the deal would have ‘no impact on facts on the ground in Ogaden and represents an attempt by the regime to promote the idea that a non-existent peace process is underway in Ogaden.’