The first round of three-day talks between Ethiopian officials and representatives from the Ethiopian rebel group of ethnic Somalis, Ogden National Liberation Front (ONLF), began Sunday at a secret location in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
Delegates from the two sides arrived Saturday for the talks that are being facilitated by Kenyan officials.
Abdulkadir Hassan Hirmoge, a spokesman for the ONLF, confirmed to VOA Somali that the talks have begun.
Hirmoge said each side has sent a delegation of four members. The ONLF delegation is led by Foreign Secretary Abdirahman Mahdi. It is unclear who is leading the Ethiopian delegation, but photos released by the Kenyan facilitators show the president of the Somali Regional State of Ethiopia, Abdi Mohamud Omar, sitting on the opposite side of the table, along with other officials.
A source close to the talks told VOA Somali that “Day One of the talks covered considerable ground and ended on a high note.”
Hirmoge cautioned that it was too soon to say how the talks might end because “there are big issues at stake.”
“We can’t talk prematurely, but these talks are about principles, on compensation, on self-determination, on freedom, referendum, on the economy and centuries-old aggression,” he said.
ONLF and the Ethiopian government fell out in 1994 after a dispute over self-determination. The dispute drove ONLF to war and turned the ethnic Somali state, rich with gas and oil, into a deadly battleground that claimed many lives.
In April 2007, ONLF rebels attacked an oil field in an Obolleh village near the regional capital of Jigjiga, killing 67 Ethiopian soldiers and nine Chinese oil workers. In response, Ethiopia heavily militarized the region and carried out a brutal operation, according to human rights organizations.