Prominent Ogaden rebel leader Abdikarim Sheikh Musse arrived in the breakaway republic of Somaliland on Tuesday one year after Somalia controversially handed him over to Ethiopian authorities on terrorism charges.
Musse, popularly known as Qalbi Dhagah among Somalis, is a member of the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), which is fighting for self-determination for people in Ethiopia’s Somali Region or Ogaden.
He arrived in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s capital, from Kenya where he has been staying since his release from prison by Ethiopia’s government in July.
He was received at Hargeisa’s airport by senior Somaliland government officials, members of the self-proclaimed republic’s parliament and several hundred flag-waving residents of the city.
Qalbi Dhagah’s detention by security forces in the central Somali city of Galkayo in August 2017 and his subsequent transfer to Ethiopia sparked protests by nationalists across Somalia against the government of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.
The ONLF official maintains he is a dual Somali-Ethiopian citizen who fought for Somalia in the 1977 war with Ethiopia.
The Somali government said at the time of his extradition that it believed it was taking “a legal step to remove a security threat”. Mogadishu accused the ONLF of having links with the Somalia-based al-Shabab group, a charge both groups deny.
In August 2018, the ONLF declared a unilateral ceasefire after the Ethiopian government took the group off the country’s list of terrorist organisations as part of sweeping reforms announced by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
The group had carried out several deadly raids in Ethiopia’s Somali Region targeting Ethiopian forces in the region.
Earlier this month, ONLF representatives and Ethiopian government officials held peace talks in neighbouring Eritrea.