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End of Ethiopian civil war paves way for opposition groups

NAIROBI, Kenya -- In its turbulent 30-year history of civil war, Ethiopia has had up to 21 separate rebel groups fighting in the country at one time.

The interim ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front is itself a recent coalition of four rebel movements: the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front, the Ethiopian People's Democratic Movement, the Oromo People's Democratic Organization and the Ethiopian Democratic Officers Revolutionary Movement.

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Political analysts say the dramatic victory by EPRDF rebels has given impetus to other insurgent groups to renew battles against the northern- based, Tigrayan-lead EPRDF now controlling virtually the whole country.

Many rebel groups that had been inactive or had sunk into oblivion over the years feel bitter at their possible exclusion from a transitional government headed by the EPRDF that -- according to agreements reached at the U.S.-mediated peace talks in London last week -- is to be agreed upon by a conference of all parties by July 1.

There have already been acts of sabotage by stalwarts of the regime of former President Mengistu Haile Mariam, continued fighting in the west, lawlessness in the east and reported uprisings in the northwest.

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Rebel groups oppose the EPRDF administration for two main reasons: tribal hostility against the Tigrayan-lead movement, and the lack of commitment by the EPRDF to Ethiopian unity.

Of a population of roughly 50 million people, 40 percent are Amhara, who consider themselves the elite among Ethiopians and dominate the central highlands and Addis Ababa itself.

A further 40 percent are from the Oromo tribe, who live in the southwest, south and southeast of the country.

There are about 3 million Tigrayans and the same number of Eritreans.

Smaller tribal groupings include the Afar from northern Wollo and Tigray provinces and people of Somali origin living in the eastern Ogaden region.

The Amhara in particular are strongly opposed to rule by the Tigrayans, and bitterly resentful of the United States, which in their eyesbetrayed the country by asking the EPRDF to enter Addis Ababa May 28.

The mainly Muslim Oromo, who recently gained victories in areas outside their traditional fighting ground of western Wollega province, are likely to continue fighting if not given their share of the national cake.

'The fall of Addis Ababa has given courage to the OLF. The movement is likely to score victory after victory in areas it rarely entered during the Mengistu regime,' military sources said.

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The OLF reportedly have an army of 10,000 soldiers.

Ethiopians determined to preserve the country's unity are indignant about the EPRDF's position on the question of independence for the Red Sea province of Eritrea.

The Eritrean People's Liberation Front has been fighting for the seccession of Eritrea for 30 years. It now controls the whole of Eritrea and has set up its own provisional government there until a referendum can be held to allow the people to determine their political future.

The EPRDF has not taken a formal stand in favor of Eritrean independence, but it is believed to have been largely funded and trained by the EPLF, and earlier this year the two movements joined forces in a blitzkreig offensive which forced Mengistu to flee the country May 21.

The EPRDF is committed to a democratic referendum in Eritrea.

This has become an extremely unpopular stand in Addis Ababa and around the country. People are worried that if Eritrea cedes, the rest of Ethiopia will disintegrate into warring tribal factions.

Rebel movements already regrouping or likely to oppose the EPRDF include:

--the Amhara dominated Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party, formerly Maoist and now Marxist, which reportedly has gathered a large army in northwestern Gonder province in the past two weeks;

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--the moderate Amhara-led Ethiopian Democratic Union;

--the Western Somali Liberation Front, founded in 1975 to unite the Ogaden province with neighbouring Somalia;

--the Oromo Liberation Front with 8,000 fighters;

--the splinter Islamic Oromo Liberation Front with about 2,000 rebels;

--the Gambella People's Liberation Movement which has been backed by Sudan;

--the People's Liberation Front Revolutionary Guard which commands the loyalty of some 7,000 rebels;

--the Afar Liberation Front, founded in the 1970s, which is bitterly against the Tigrayans who claim sections of Afar territory as part of the so-called 'Greater Tigray.'

--the Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Movement which is Marxist but anti- Soviet in outlook. It operates mainly in the mountains of Wollo and Gonder. It has a significant 'multinational' element superimposed on its Amharic core.

Foreign-based groups include the shadowy Free Soldiers Movement and the Ethiopian Movement for Democracy, Peace and Unity, led by former Foreign Minister Goshu Wolde.

Already the U.S. government has told the Ethiopians that aid from the West will depend on the establishment of democracy in the war-ravaged country.

'No democracy, no cooperation,' was last month's message by Herman Cohen, U.S. assistant secretary for African affairs, who mediated the London peace talks. The talks were attended by representatives of the former government, the EPRDF, the EPLF and the OLF.

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But representatives of the former government walked out of the talks when the U.S. asked the EPRDF to enter Addis Ababa, andkthe clandestine radio of the OLF said its representatives had not been consulted about the move.

With discontent all around, a bankrupt economy and more than 7 million people threatened with starvation, any transitional government faces a daunting task.

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