Leader of Ethiopia's Oromo rebels predicts victory 'very soon'

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A rebel leader fighting Ethiopia's government says his troops are near the capital and preparing another attack, predicting the war would end "very soon" as diplomats rush to negotiate a ceasefire.

Jaal Marroo, commander of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), warned Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that pro-government fighters were defecting and the rebels were very close to victory.

"What I am sure (of) is that it is going to end very soon," Jaal, whose real name is Kumsa Diriba, told AFP in an interview Sunday.

"We are preparing to push for another launch, and for another attack. The government is just trying to buy time, and they are trying to instigate civil war in this country, so they are calling for the nation to fight."

The OLA and its allies, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), have claimed several victories in recent weeks, taking towns some 400 kilometres (250 miles) from the capital, and have not ruled out marching on Addis Ababa.

Jaal said his fighters were even closer -- some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the capital -- and had "never moved (back) an inch" from territory they controlled.

AFP could not independently confirm this claim. Much of the conflict-affected zone is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making battlefield positions difficult to verify.

The government has rejected suggestions the rebels are within striking distance of Addis Ababa, but has ordered the capital to prepare to defend itself, while foreign embassies have withdrawn staff.

"While we are being tested on many fronts, our collective will to realize the path we have embarked upon has strengthened us," Abiy tweeted Monday, a day after tens of thousands marched in Addis Ababa in support of the government.

The threat of fresh rebel advances has spurred efforts by foreign envoys to broker a settlement to a conflict that has killed thousands and inflicted atrocities and starvation on civilians.

On Sunday, the African Union's high representative for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, sat down with TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael in Tigray's capital Mekele.

The same day, the UN undersecretary for humanitarian affairs, Martin Griffiths, also visited Mekele where he met the "de-facto authorities" there, said a spokesperson.

Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, sent troops into Tigray in November last year to topple the TPLF, accusing them of attacking military bases.

In August, the OLA and TPLF -- both designated terrorist groups by the government -- announced they had brokered an alliance to fight against a common enemy, despite the two groups holding historic grievances.

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