Ethiopian Opposition leaders freed under amnesty

Govt. says the decision is to promote a ‘national dialogue’

Several high-profile Ethiopian Opposition figures were tasting freedom on Saturday after the government granted a surprise amnesty for prominent political detainees, including Tigrayan party leaders.

The government said the move was designed to promote “national dialogue” and follows a dramatic shift in fortunes in the brutal 14-month war between forces loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

TPLF fighters withdrew to their stronghold in the northernmost region of Tigray at the end of December in the face of a military offensive by government forces that saw them retake a string of strategic towns.

Several TPLF figures were among those pardoned, as well as Opposition leaders from the Oromo ethnic group, the largest in Ethiopia, and the Amhara.

“The key to lasting unity is dialogue. Ethiopia will make any sacrifices to this end,” the government communications service said in a statement late Friday announcing the amnesty.

“Its purpose is to pave the way for a lasting solution to Ethiopia’s problems in a peaceful, non-violent way… especially with the aim of making the all-inclusive national dialogue a success.”

It was not clear if the government was proposing any negotiations with the TPLF, the party that dominated politics for three decades until Mr. Abiy took power in 2018 but is now considered a terrorist group by Addis Ababa.

There has been something of a pause in fighting since the TPLF retreat, although the rebels accuse the government of still carrying out deadly drone strikes on Tigray.

Among those freed were several politicians rounded up after deadly protests erupted in mid-2020 over the killing of Hachalu Hundessa, a popular Oromo singer and activist.

They included Eskinder Nega, a veteran Amhara journalist. Others released were Jawar Mohammed, an Oromo media mogul.

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