Both the government and rebels from the Ogaden National Liberation Front, the ONLF, said the preliminary talks took place Thursday and Friday in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. An ONLF statement said an unspecified date had been set for further talks. It also said both sides have agreed to specific goodwill and confidence-building measures ahead of formal negotiations.
Ethiopian Communications Minister Bereket Simon is calling the talks “a very positive step.” He told the Bloomberg news service the government is ready to “pursue negotiations up to the last.” No other details have been announced.
The ONLF launched a low-level rebellion in 1984 aimed at gaining greater autonomy in Somali state — a region rich in natural gas reserves that — like the rest of the country — has been ravaged by extended drought and severe food shortages.
The Addis Ababa government has labeled the ONLF a terrorist organization with ties in neighboring Somalia to the al-Qaida-linked extremist group al-Shabab.
The ONLF accuses the Ethiopian government of widespread human rights abuses in the Ogaden region. It claims the government has repeatedly confiscated private property and interfered with relief work. It also claims Addis Ababa has wrongfully expropriated international aid destined for the region.