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Ethiopia: Militiamen Evacuate the Holy City of Lalibela, the Army Returns

Ethiopia’s federal army regained control of the Orthodox holy town of Lalibela (north) on Thursday, following the overnight departure of militiamen who had largely seized it the previous day, residents said.

Members of the Amhara Fano “self-defense” militia “left during the night. The federal army is in control of the town”, a resident of Lalibela, world-famous for its rock-hewn churches, told AFP on Thursday morning on condition of anonymity.

The Fano – informal militias of volunteer citizen-fighters – supported the Ethiopian army during the two-year conflict with the rebel authorities of the neighboring Tigray region, which ended with an agreement signed in November 2022 in Pretoria.

This agreement, seen as a reversal of alliances in the face of territorial disputes between Amhara and Tigray, exacerbated tensions in Amhara. These escalated into open conflict when the federal government attempted to disarm regional forces in April.

“Until early this morning, the Fano controlled most of the town. When we woke up, they were finishing leaving town,” confirmed another resident, who also requested anonymity for security reasons.

“I can see the ENDF (Federal Armed Forces) deployed in the streets”, he added. According to these two residents, who were contacted separately, no further clashes were audible on Thursday, the day after a day in which gunfire and explosions rocked the town.

On Wednesday afternoon, several residents had reported that the Fano were in control of most of Lalibela, and that federal forces had been pushed back to the outskirts of a base on the edge of town.

On Wednesday and Thursday, it was not possible to verify the statements made by local residents, as the federal authorities denied journalists access to Amhara.

Neither the federal government, nor the Ethiopian army, nor the regional authorities could be reached or responded to AFP messages since Wednesday. No reports of the fighting were available.

The second most populous country in Africa (120 million inhabitants), Ethiopia, a mosaic of 80 peoples, is torn apart by multiple simultaneous but unrelated conflicts.

Source: Africa News