30 MAY 2021
By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
Three Chinese nationals who had been kidnapped by an armed group in western Ethiopia have been freed after two weeks in captivity, sources confirmed to the Nation on Saturday.
The trio were abducted on May 15 by a militant group calling itself the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) but known by the government as Shene.
The Oromo militant group said the three mine workers were taken for their “involvement in illegal mining operations” around Mendi in the West Wellega part of the Oromiya region, where the militant group operates actively.
“They are all in safe hands and in good health,” said Odaa Tarbii, the international spokesperson for the OLA High Command.
A post on the release of the three, including a picture of a “Certificate of Handover to ICRC”, was shared on Twitter.
However, representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Ethiopia and government officials were not immediately available for comment.
The Chinese embassy in Addis Ababa had not issued a statement by press time.
The Twitter post by Tarbii identified the three Chinese nationals as Mr Huang, Mr He and Mr Wang.
Earlier, the spokesperson had said the group had no intention of holding them as leverage.
An unidentified Ethiopian citizen was released alongside the three Chinese workers.
It is unclear which company they worked for and whether they were freed following negotiations.
Following the kidnapping, authorities in Ethiopia’s West Welega Zone denied the militant group’s May 15 claim of being behind the incident.
Local officials then asserted that no foreign nationals had been abducted and that no licences had been issued to Chinese nationals for mining in the area.
OLA-Shene was designated earlier this month as a terrorist group by the Ethiopian government along with a former Tigray region ruling party, Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which turned into a guerrilla fighter.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government accuses the two groups of carrying out several “terror level” civilian-targeted attacks in different parts of the country over the past few years.
The groups are also “being exploited by foreign forces seeking to weaken, disrupt and dismantle Ethiopia”, the government says.
Increasing security gaps across the country and the government’s failure to close them have become features of the current administration, leading to a public outcry in the run-up to the national polls due on May 21.