Troops from the Tigray region have taken control of the town of Lalibela, a UNESCO cultural heritage site where the famous rock-hewn churches are located, causing residents to flee, according to witnesses at the scene. to the Reuters news agency on Thursday (5).
The takeover of the city is another development of the conflict in the Tigris region, which began in November, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali launched a military offensive against the Nationalist Front for the Liberation of the Tigris Peoples ( FLPT). governs the region. He justified the measure by accusing opposing troops of attacking a government military base to steal weapons and other equipment.
Behind the argument actually lurks historic ethnic conflicts in the country, as the current prime minister – the first of the Omora ethnic group to take power – has been accused of persecuting the Tigrins, who ruled Ethiopia for three years. decades. Abiy took office in 2018 with the speech of privileging national sentiment over divisions, something thwarted with the conflict.
At the end of November, the government even declared victory after taking control of the regional capital, Mekele. The FLPT, however, took control of the city in late June after tensions escalated in the conflict. In recent weeks, the fighting has spread to Amhara and Afar, also in the north of the country.
Seyfu, a Lalibela resident who spoke to Reuters by phone, reported that hundreds of gunmen speaking the language of the Tigris region – not Aramaic, the country’s official language – were circulating in the city on Thursday, wearing uniforms different from those of the official army. .
According to the Ethiopian, troops from the Amhara region, where the city is located and which are allied with the Addis Ababa government, fled on Wednesday evening (4). “We asked them to stay or at least give us their Kalashnikovs [fuzis russos], but they refused and left with five ambulances and several cars and trucks, ”Seyfu reported. “They shot and killed a friend of mine who begged them to stay to protect the civilians. “
Another man, Dawit, told Reuters by phone that he left Lalibela on Thursday morning as Tiger forces arrived in the area. “We had to go on foot. Daniel, who is also a resident of the city, claimed to have seen hundreds of soldiers arrive in the city around noon. He said he fled to the surrounding mountains and only women and children were left behind.
Reuters was unable to confirm information provided by residents to authorities. Spokesmen for the prime minister, the military and the government task force in Tigre did not respond to requests for interviews. A representative of Tiré’s troops could not be reached to confirm the capture of Lalibela either.
Amhara region vice president Fanta Mandefro said he had no training on the situation in the city, which is also a holy place for Orthodox Christians in the country and attracts many tourists for its monolithic churches from the 12th and 13th centuries. with the outbreak of conflict at the end of last year.
Senior UN and US officials visiting Ethiopia this week have drawn attention to the growing Tiger War in other areas in the north of the country. US State Department spokesman Ned Price on Thursday urged rebel forces to respect the city’s cultural heritage as concern grows in Washington over the escalating conflict.
According to UN estimates, the clashes have already driven 350,000 people to the brink of hunger and millions of people fleeing their homes to other countries, including Sudan.