October 24, 2005
Hundreds of Oromo immigrants attended the event at South High School to learn about new developments in their homeland, in particular the prospects for OLF negotiations with Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.
"My purpose is to consult with our people about how we can end this conflict peacefully," said Daud Ibsa, chairman of the OLF, who is traveling in Europe and the United States to discuss the proposed negotiations.
"The majority of people want to go home," said Ibsa. "They want to see light at the end of the tunnel."
Ibsa said he is visiting Minnesota because it is home to about 15,000 Oromo immigrants, the largest concentration outside of Ethiopia and refugee camps in Kenya.
It's the first Minnesota visit by an OLF chairman in nine years.
The Oromo Liberation Front was established in early 1970s by Oromo nationalists, who wanted to preserve their culture and gain political sovereignty in Ethiopia. It was part of a transitional government in Ethiopia in the early 1990s, but withdrew its support and turned to an armed struggle.
Oromos have been persecuted by the Ethiopian government, Minnesota refugees say, in particular professionals and intellectuals. Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, based in Minneapolis, launched a special project to investigate human rights abuses.
Ibsa visited the offices of the human rights group earlier this week to thank the group for its work.
Any negotiations for peace must be legitimate and lead to some form of Oromo self-determination, Oromos here said. But many were nonetheless excited about the prospects of peace in their homeland.
"The mood here is positive," said Alemayehu Baisa, executive director of the Oromo Community of Minnesota, a nonprofit assisting the state's Oromo residents. "It is a day of questions and answers -- of consensus-building."
Resolving the Oromo issues, said Ibsa, would not only help individual Oromo people, but help stabilize Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa as well.
"We say the Oromo is the solution," he said.