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Friday, 5 July, 2002, 01:35 GMT 02:35 UK
Ethiopia says Oromo rebels crushed
Ethiopian soldiers marching near the Eritrean border
The army says it is in control in western Ethiopia

The Ethiopian army says that it has "completely annihilated" forces loyal to the armed separatist movement, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).


The OLF is not occupying or controlling any area in Ethiopia.

Major General Bacha Debele

Speaking to journalists in Addis Ababa on Thursday, Major General Bacha Debele, Army Commander of the Forces in the West, said that the clashes between the Ethiopian army and the OLF were finally over.

The clashes began almost two months ago when the OLF launched a major offensive in western Ethiopia, and have been sporadically erupting since then.

The OLF evolved from a political party into an armed movement nine years ago, claiming that the rights of the Oromo people - who make up almost 40% of Ethiopia's 65 million - were not being respected.

The OLF are now fighting Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government for the independence of the Oromo region from the rest of Ethiopia.

Four battalions

Major General Debele said that over the past two months, the OLF had sent four battalions through the Sudanese borders to infiltrate into western Ethiopia and destabilise peace in the country.

He added that all four battalions had been destroyed - with 75 OLF members dead and 523 captured.

He said that those captured including several high-ranking OLF commanders.

Prime Minister Meles Zenawi
Zenawi opposes Oromo secession

When asked of the causalities suffered by the Ethiopian army, he said that he could not verify the numbers at the moment.

The OLF claim that hundreds of Ethiopian soldiers have been wounded and killed in the clashes which mainly took place in Abobo, in the Gambella region and the surrounding areas of Gidami, in the Oromia region

The two regions are in western Ethiopia near the border with Sudan.

Major General Bacha refuted claims made by the OLF that the fighting was continuing and that the OLF insurgents had occupied and "liberated areas" in the region of Oromia.

"The OLF is not occupying or controlling any area in Ethiopia.

"If they are, then let them take you there and show you these so-called liberated areas.

"They are lying, just as they always do."

Eritrea accused

The commander accused Eritrea - with whom Ethiopia is emerging from a two-and-a-half year border conflict - of arming and supporting the OLF fighters and other armed opposition movements.

According to the General, the captured OLF fighters were interrogated and had explained that they had come from Eritrea where they were trained by the Eritrean army at the Sawa military camp.

He said that they then had been told to cross the long and porous Sudanese border and enter into Ethiopia.

Most of the OLF fighters were Ethiopian refugees, and a few Ethiopian army soldiers who had deserted the army during the war with Eritrea, and been recruited by the OLF and sent to Eritrea.

Pictures of the OLF insurgents, dressed in combat fatigues, were shown on state television Wednesday night.

Most looked relatively young.

The Army commander added that he was expecting a fifth OLF battalion that is currently training in Eritrea, to attempt to infiltrate into Ethiopia.

"We are expecting them and are ready for them.

"Let them try and cause havoc in our country.

"We are waiting to stop them."

See also:

29 Jun 02 | Africa
08 May 02 | Africa
19 Aug 99 | Africa
10 Jul 01 | Africa
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