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100 Ethiopian Oromo Rebels Surrender

100 Ethiopian Oromo Rebels Surrender

More than 100 ethnic Oromo rebels in Ethiopia have surrendered, saying their nearly four decade long liberation struggle is lost. But other factions of the insurgent group are vowing to fight on.

A former senior leader of the Oromo Liberation Front says he and 100 other OLF fighters have given up and turned over their weapons. Ethiopia's state-run television earlier reported the rebels had surrendered at a base in northern Kenya from where they had been operating.

At a news conference at Ethiopia's communications ministry, former OLF foreign minister Licho Bukhura said internal disputes had destroyed the Oromo liberation struggle. "Over the years divisions within the organization, within the leadership, lack of focus and vision has hampered the cause, and the organization can be said today to be no more," he said.

The rebel group was formed in the early 1970s to fight for autonomy of Oromia, Ethiopia's largest geographical region and home to ethnic Oromos, who make up about 40 percent of the country's 80 million people. But Licho said the group had lost its military capability. "The OLF fighting capacity, military engagement is zero. The fractured organization unit might pull together and come up with a few platoons, will not be a viable military unit that will be capable to challenge the existence of this government," he said.

Other members, however, say the OLF remains a potent force in Oromia. In a telephone interview from the group' Washington office, spokesman Beyan Asoba acknowledged splits among three OLF factions, but denied there had been any letup in rebel military activity. He said more strikes against Ethiopia are being planned. "The OLF is active and is engaged in struggle in eastern, western and southern part of Oromia. If they did not hear from the OLF up to now, they will hear soon," he said.

Beyan charged that Licho Bukhura and others who surrendered were spies who had earlier been expelled from the OLF after a failed assassination plot. "The truth was, under the guise and pretext of uniting the three groups of OLF, they arranged a plot, a conspiracy with the government to kidnap or kill the leaders of three OLF groups. When this failed, the Licho group surrendered to their handlers," he said.

Ethiopia considers the Oromo Liberation Front a terrorist organization, and police have blamed the group for a series of bombings throughout the country in the past few years.

Experts say the rebels had as many as 14,000 armed fighters in 1991, but in recent years that number is believed to have dwindled to a few thousand.