Addis Ababa - Two Ethiopian opposition leaders were arrested days after meeting a team from Amnesty International, who were then themselves expelled, the human rights group said on Wednesday.

Bekele Gerba, deputy chairperson of the opposition Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement (OFDM) and Olbana Lelisa of the Oromo People's Congress party (OPC) were both arrested on Saturday, Amnesty said in a statement.

“We are extremely concerned that the arrests of the two men occurred within days of talking with our delegates,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's deputy programme director for Africa.

However, Ethiopia said the two men are suspected of working with the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), a rebel group the government list as a terrorist organisation.

“These people were arrested because the police had found evidence that had linked them with clandestine activities carried out by the OLF,” government spokesperson Shimeles Kemal told reporters.

“This had nothing to do with their activities as a lawful registered political organisation.”

But Amnesty claims the government “often uses” the charge of belonging to the OLF “to silence members” of the Oromo ethnic group.

“Although the Ethiopian government has denied it, we are worried that their arrests are not a coincidence, but because they spoke to Amnesty International,” Kagari added.

Amnesty was ordered by the government to leave Ethiopia on Saturday - the same day the men were arrested.

The OLF was part of Ethiopia's transition government from 1991 to 1995, after the fall of the Marxist regime of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam.

After numerous disputes with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's EPRDF party, it quit the coalition and demanded the creation of an independent state to be called Oromia. - Sapa-AFP