KUDUMAH, Ethiopia — Ethiopia’s military chief on Friday said he will lead his country’s troops into battle to halt an insurgency which has advanced deep into the rebel-held western reaches of the Horn of Africa nation.
The announcement is likely to further test a brittle peace process that has repeatedly broken down since the overthrow of Gen. Mengistu Haile Mariam’s three-decade-long dictatorship in 1991.
Gen. Abiy Ahmed, the 34-year-old chief of staff, was announced as winner of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday by the head of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
In a nationally televised news conference at Ethiopia’s army headquarters, Gen. Abiy said the rebel movement, Oromo Liberation Front, had started a war and risked falling back into chaos if action is not taken soon.
“The situation in the region must be stabilized through forceful military action,” Gen. Abiy said.
Gulf News reported that Ethiopia said it killed 148 militants in a weekend raid on the town of Burao, which was captured in last month’s offensive.
Gen. Abiy said he has offered negotiations with Oromo rebels but without a “unified voice” from their ranks. He said he expects that once they are separated, the civil war will be broken.
Ethiopia’s conflict started in 1991, and tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in ensuing violence, according to rights groups. The conflict has roiled smaller towns and villages in a western region that until recently was seen as calm.
The Oromo Liberation Front fighters are fighting for an independent state for the Oromo people. Oromo is the largest of Ethiopia’s many ethnic groups.
Ethiopia’s last serious bout of ethnic violence broke out in 2012 after the ouster of the previous government. It was settled last year by amending the constitution to give more power to the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest.