Kenya and Norway are mediating peace talks between the Ethiopian federal government and a rebel group from the country's Oromia region, the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), seeking to end one of the continual clashes in the country.
The talks which began on Tuesday in Zanzibar, Tanzania, are aimed at ending a long-running silent conflict in the country's Oromia region.
OLA's Spokesperson Odaa Tarbii told the media that the meeting is only the first step intended to build trust between the two parties.
“I want to clarify these are preliminary talks meant to pave the way for comprehensive negotiations in the very near future," Odaa said.
"For now, the focus is building confidence and clarifying positions" he added.
According to the rebel official, the talks are being mediated by Norway and Kenya and will last until Thursday this week.
He also said the EU, US and a regional bloc, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (Igad), are also expected to be "part of the process" going forward if they are successful.
Through its spokesperson, Igad expressed its hope that the peace talks will lead to a political agreement.
Each party is represented by a six-member negotiating team.
Ethiopian government's negotiating team includes the country’s Justice Minister Gedion Timotheos and the prime minister's national security adviser Redwan Hussein, both of whom were previously negotiating with Tigrayan forces.
Redwan on November 4, 2022 led the Ethiopian negotiating team that agreed on a permanent cease-fire with Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), with whom the nation’s government had fought a two-year war from November 2020.
OLA on its side is represented by their army commander's advisor Jiregna Gudetta, a historian, Prof Muhammad Hassan, and Abdi Taha.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Sunday announced that his government will begin peace negotiations with the outlawed OLA rebel group.
It was the first time for the Ethiopian government to officially announce via its prime minister that it would negotiate with this banned rebel group.
"The people of Ethiopia and the government eagerly need this negotiation," Abiy said.
The talks aimed to end over half-a-century-long insurgency of the Oromo rebels.
The OLA armed group has been fighting Ethiopia’s government since the 1970s for self-determination of Oromia, the most populous and largest region in the Horn of Africa nation.
The rebels intensified their fighting in the last four years in a bid topple Prime Minister Abiy's central government.
OLA was designated by Addis Ababa as a terrorist entity in May 2021.
The new agreement for peace talks comes about six months after a peace deal reached between the federal government and forces in the Tigray region, which ended a two-year bloody conflict in the country's north.
The two-year conflict in the Tigray region has claimed the lives of over 600,000 people and displaced millions of others.
Now as the Tigray peace holds, Prime Minister Abiy who was the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, seems committed to end the long-running silent conflict in the Oromia region.
Abiy, himself from the Oromia region, is the first ever ethnic Oromo to assume power as the country's prime minister.