Ethiopia removed three opposition groups from its list of “terrorist” organisations on Thursday, the latest sign of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed charting a new course for one of Africa’s most tightly controlled states.
The state-run Fana Broadcasting Corporation said parliament unanimously removed Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and Ginbot 7 from the list.
Parliament is controlled by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) coalition with all 547 seats.
EPRDF has been in power since 1991. Fitsum Arega, the Ethiopian prime minister’s chief of staff, said on Twitter on Saturday that the “Cabinet has submitted a resolution to parliament for ratification that will rescind the designation of OLF, ONLF & Ginbot 7 as terrorist groups”.
The cabinet had also sent a law to parliament granting amnesty to individuals and groups involved in armed struggle against the government, according to Fitsum.
Analysts in Ethiopia said the move was a step in the right direction but more needed to be done before the groups put down their weapons.
“The decision is a major breakthrough but for it to be really effective the government needs to revisit some of the restrictive legislation currently in place,” Hallelujah Lulie had told Al Jazeera about the cabinet decision.
“The government needs to look at the current anti-terror law. It also needs to reform the security services, the justice system and also the electoral commission,” Hallelujah added.
In June, Ginbot 7 said it would cease armed attacks in the country following reforms announced by the new government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Ginbot 7, an outlawed opposition group formed after a disputed election in 2005 and named after the date in the Ethiopian calendar when the vote took place – has claimed numerous deadly attacks in the past.
Ethiopia released top Ginbot 7 officials from prison in June, including Andargachew Tsige, who was found guilty of violent attacks and initially sentenced in absentia in 2009 over his role in the opposition group.
Tsige was arrested during a stopover at a Yemen airport in June 2014 and taken to Ethiopia.
Prosecutors also dropped charges against the group’s leader Berhanu Nega, who is based outside Ethiopia and had in 2009 received a death sentence in absentia over an assassination plot.
The OLF seeks self-determination for the Oromo people against what they see as Amhara colonial rule. Amharas are an ethnic group in the northern and central highlands of Ethiopia.
The ONLF is a separatist rebel group fighting for self-determination for Somalis in the Somali Region of Ethiopia.
The group demands autonomy of this region and has claimed several attacks since 1994 aimed at Ethiopian forces in the area.
Abiy, who took office in April, has been pursuing rapprochement with several opposition groups.
All the three groups have bases in neighbouring Eritrea.