17 Jan 2010 18:47:08 GMT
* Kenya says rebels hiding out near border
* Rebels issue no denial of Ethiopian reports
* Analysts say rebels will try to disrupt elections
ADDIS ABABA, Jan 17 (Reuters) - Ethiopia has taken more than 100 Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) rebels into custody after they surrendered and handed over a cache of arms, the government said through state media on Sunday.
A number of rebel groups operate in the Horn of Africa country, launching hit-and-run attacks and worrying potential investors in oil and gas exploration.
"Members of a political force operating under the name of the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) handed over themselves to the government in an organised manner," state-run Ethiopian Television (ETV) reported.
The group included Lucho Burbura who has been one of the group's top military commanders and its head of foreign relations, ETV said.
The OLF did not immediately deny the reports but said on Sunday it had killed three Ethiopian troops and captured five in renewed fighting.
The OLF has fought for autonomy for its southern homeland since 1993. The Oromos are Ethiopia's largest ethnic group but have not held power in modern times.
The Ethiopian opposition says the government falsely accuses Oromo politicians of OLF membership as an excuse to arrest them before national elections in May.
Oromo politicians in the capital Addis Ababa, who did not want to be named, told Reuters on Sunday that the reports on state television looked credible.
A government official in neighbouring Kenya, who also asked not to be identified, told Reuters the OLF rebels had been hiding out on their side of the border.
"More than 103 fighters were brought here (Moyale) by hired trucks (and) taken to Ethiopia, where they gave all their guns and uniforms," the official said.
The official said Kenya was about to deploy thousands of troops to flush the rebels back into Ethiopia. He said Ethiopia would offer defectors amnesty.
Ethiopia -- which has a system of "ethnic federalism" under which major ethnic groups control the regions where they are the majority -- fights other separatist groups, including the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF).
Ogaden is eyed by foreign oil and gas companies who think its huge deserts might be rich in mineral deposits.
Analysts expect the rebels to try to disrupt the national elections. (Additional reporting by Noor Ali in Isiolo; editing by David Clarke and Charles Dick)
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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