Jawar Mohammed to Be Released From Prison by Ethiopian President

NAIROBI, Kenya – Ethiopia’s government said on Friday it would release several prominent political prisoners, including members of the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front, as a step towards a peaceful solution to the country’s civil war, now in its 15th month.

Among those released is Jawar Mohammed, a prominent critic of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was arrested in July 2020 during popular protests in which hundreds of protesters were killed.

The announcement, which coincided with Orthodox Christmas, comes weeks after Mr Abe’s forces scored a string of battlefield victories against rebels from the country’s northern Tigray region, and raised rare hopes that some form of reconciliation could be achieved.

Mr Abiy’s government said in a statement that it would release the prisoners “to pave the way for a lasting solution to Ethiopia’s problems in a peaceful and non-violent manner” through a “national dialogue”.

But there was no mention of peace talks with his main enemy, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which was forced to retreat to its stronghold in northern Ethiopia last month.

The group said it was ready to stop the fighting if Mr. Abi met certain conditions. Mr. Abiy had previously ruled out any negotiations with them.

“I think this is a purely political maneuver by my father,” said Ole Allo, a senior lecturer in law at Keele University in England. “National dialogue to solve our political problems is different from peace talks to end war.”

Since Mr Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, launched military action in Tigray in November 2020, the conflict has been marked by accusations of widespread human rights abuses, ethnic cleansing and a humanitarian crisis that has plunged at least 400,000 people into it. Famine-like conditions.

“The key to lasting unity is dialogue,” the government said in its statement on Friday. But she also drew a note of triumph, saying that “one of the moral obligations of the winner is compassion.” However, fighting continues in Tigray, where Mr. Abi’s forces suffered a series of humiliating defeats last summer.

Foreign analysts and diplomats say Abiy’s stunning military comeback in recent months has been made possible in large part by armed drones supplied by foreign allies, including the United Arab Emirates and Turkey, which have turned the tide on the battlefield.

For months, diplomats from the United States, Europe and neighboring African countries have urged Mr. Abiy, both in private and in public, to stop the fighting and open peace talks with the Tigrayans and other armed opposition groups.

Last month, Tigrayans said they were ready to engage in talks if the government releases political prisoners – including thousands of ethnic Tigrayans who have been detained by Ethiopian security forces in recent months – and ends a punitive seven-month siege on Tigray that has cut off vital supplies. of food and medicine. But the government has taken none of these steps.

The list of prisoners to be released includes Sebahat Nega, the 80-year-old founding member of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, who was captured by Ethiopian soldiers in the first weeks of the war.

But the most significant announcement was undoubtedly that of Mr. Gawar, leader of the Oromo ethnic group that makes up more than a third of Ethiopia’s 110 million population, and one of Abiy’s biggest political opponents.

Mr Abiy, then the leader of an Oromo political party, came to power in 2018 after massive street protests organized by Oromo youth led by Mr. Jawar, founder of an influential media group and formerly based in the United States.

But the two men later disagreed, with Mr. Jawar accusing Mr. Abiy of abandoning the Oromo cause. Mr Abiy imprisoned Mr. Jawar in July 2020 during the tumultuous protests that erupted in the wake of the unprovoked killing of famous Oromo singer Hashalu Hundesa.

Two foreign diplomats said that in recent weeks, Mr. Abiy had quiet talks with Mr. Jawar about his possible release. It was not clear if any conditions were attached to the release announced on Friday.

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