Ethiopia says a little known rebel group in the eastern Somali region has renounced the use of force and agreed to join the political process, weeks before nationwide elections. The government also labeled allegations of campaign irregularities as attempts to tarnish the election process.
Ethiopian Communications Minister Bereket Simon says the United Western Somali Liberation Front has given up its attempt to break away from Addis Ababa's rule.
"They had pursued a mistaken past, and now they're desisting from it, so we will respect their right to engage in civilized politics," said Bereket.
The UWSLF has rarely been heard of in recent years. Former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn said in a recent speech that the group had demonstrated almost no military capacity and rarely issued news releases.
Among their most recent activities was the brief kidnapping of two Red Cross workers in 2006. Reports at the time said the rebels apologized for the abduction, calling it a case of mistaken identity.
With Ethiopia's national elections little more than six weeks away Communications Minister Bereket described the outlook for a fair vote as 'good'. The last election for parliament in 2005 erupted in violence when demonstrators took to the streets to protest alleged vote rigging by the ruling party. At least 193 opposition supporters were killed.
This time, the government has promised to keep order, and has strengthened security to handle any outbreak. But opposition parties have complained vociferously, saying the ruling party's effective control of the electoral machinery makes a fair election impossible.
Bereket dismisses those allegations, calling them an attempt by the opposition to explain away their weaknesses.
"The opposition are crying wolf. Why? They are crying wolf because they are there to tarnish the whole process. They feel they are losing the whole game and the only objective they have in mind is to tarnish the whole image of the country as well as the electoral process," said Bereket.
The European Union has agreed in principle to send an observer team to monitor Ethiopia's election. But a final agreement is said to be bogged down in a dispute over a government demand that observers agree to abide by a code of conduct.
European diplomats say the mission would not agree to any conditions that violate the long-standing principles used by its election monitoring missions worldwide.