Hoax Facebook page of rebel official makes false claims about Ethiopian peace talks

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A Facebook page purportedly belonging to the spokesman of the rebel Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) claims to share key negotiating points in the ongoing talks between the regional militia and the Ethiopian government. However, the page does not belong to OLA spokesman Odaa Tarbii and the group's press office confirmed that the page was a hoax.

The post has been shared more than 300 times since it was published on Facebook on April 26, 2023.

"An exclusive report about the major points of the peace talks being conducted in Tanzania," reads the post translated from Afaan Oromoo.

Screenshot of the false post, taken on May 2, 2023

It features a list of eight bullet points purported to be on the agenda of peace talks between the Ethiopian government and OLA.

The list includes "guaranteeing Oromo constitutional rights to Finfinnee [Addis Ababa] establishing Afaan Oromoo as a federal language; deciding the fate of the Oromo Liberation Army; protecting the Oromia border from invasion by the Fano extremist group; and returning occupied territories".

Other points raised focus on "the establishment of independent media in Oromia; the assignment of OLA members in government institutions; the abolition of the name 'Shene' attached to OLA by the government; the release of all OLA members from prison; and the support of all OLA members suffering from various health problems due to imprisonment".

The Ethiopian government uses the epithet Shene – which means five – in reference to OLA.

Peace talks

Established in the 1970s, OLA has been fighting government troops in many parts of the Oromia region since 2018. Both sides have blamed each other for civilian deaths.

On April 25, 2023, Odaa told AFP that the peace talks in Tanzania had begun, with Kenya and Norway mediating. Odaa said that the preliminary meeting would focus on "confidence building and clarifying positions". He did not mention any specific points for discussion.

The Ethiopian government later announced (archived here) through national security adviser Redwan Hussien that the first round of the talks had concluded on May 3, 2023. Hussien said talks had been broadly positive but that consensus had not been reached on some issues, without further elaboration.

OLA released the same statement via Odaa’s Twitter account, indicating no agreement had been reached on major political issues.

Screenshot of statement released by Odaa, taken on May 2, 2023

Further talks are yet to resume.

Imposter page

The page spreading false information about the peace talks uses Odaa’s name and the same profile picture seen on his official Twitter account, (archived here) where he regularly posts updates.

However, the Facebook page is not Odaa’s.

The OLA press office confirmed to AFP Fact Check that neither the organisation nor Odaa has a Facebook account.

"OLA does not have any official presence on Facebook, and any page claiming to represent us or our spokesperson is not authorised by our organisation," the press office said in an email.

"Therefore, the Facebook page under the name ‘Odaa Tarbii’ is not affiliated with the OLA or its spokesperson in any capacity," it added.

A review of the Facebook page’s transparency section shows it was first created on August 27, 2022, under the name "Mooraa Qabsoo", which in Afaan Oromoo means “centre for struggle”.

The page switched names to "Odaa Tarbii" on August 29, 2022. Much of its content has been dedicated to pro-Oromo politics and peace talks.

Screenshot of the page transparency section, taken on May 2, 2023

Several other Facebook accounts and pages impersonating Odaa have been debunked by fact-checkers in the past (archived here).

On April 27, 2023, a day after the false post was published, Odaa warned social media users to be wary of disinformation.

Screenshot of Odaa’s cautionary tweet, taken on May 2, 2023

"False information has been circulating in the media regarding the ongoing talks in Tanzania. We urge everyone to rely on official updates for accurate information," Odaa wrote (archived here) on Twitter.