Oromo rebels accuse Ethiopian forces of attacks following peace talks

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Rebels from Ethiopia's Oromiya region accused the government on Wednesday of launching a military offensive against them after a first round of peace talks ended earlier this month without a deal.

The government and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) held negotiations for a week in Zanzibar in a bid to end a decades-long conflict that, in recent years, has left hundreds dead and displaced tens of thousands in Ethiopia's most populous region.

Both sides said at the time that they had agreed to continue talking.

In a statement issued by its high command, the OLA said that after the first round of talks concluded on May 3, Ethiopian forces launched a "broad offensive".

"This move starkly contradicts the understanding that de-escalation should be prioritized during the negotiating processes," it said, accusing the army of forcing farmers to join local miilitias and supply food to its troops.

Spokespeople for Ethiopia's federal government, the army and Oromiya's regional administration did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reuters was not able to independently verify the OLA's claims.

Oromiya, which surrounds the capital Addis Ababa, is home to Ethiopia's largest ethnic group and over a third of the country's 110 million people.

It has experienced unrest for decades, rooted in grievances about alleged marginalisation and neglect by the federal government.

The violence there is a major security challenge for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, whose government signed a peace deal last November to end a two-year civil war in the northern Tigray region.

The OLA is an outlawed splinter group of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a formerly banned opposition party that returned from exile after Abiy took office in 2018.

(Reporting by Dawit Endeshaw and Giulia Paravicini; Writing by Giulia Paravicini; Editing by Aaron Ross and Christina Fincher)