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Uncovering the Truth Behind Fighting in Ethiopia’s Amhara

By Giulia Paravicini and Dawit Endeshaw

NAIROBI/ADDIS ABABA, Nov 7 (Reuters) – A fresh eruption of fighting in northern Ethiopia has raised concerns among residents about the safety of rock-hewn churches in the town of Lalibela dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries.

Fano militiamen fighting the Ethiopian army in the Amhara region over-ran Lalibela and Gondar for several days in August marking Ethiopia’s most serious security crisis since a two-year civil war in the neighbouring region of Tigray ended a year ago.

In a separate incident highlighting instability in the region, at least 30 people were killed in fighting between members of Ethiopia’s two largest ethnic groups, the Oromo and Amhara, in a town in the region’s Oromiya Special Zone, two residents said.

Fano fighters battled alongside the army during the war in Tigray, but relations between the two have soured, particularly after the federal government in April moved to integrate security forces operated by each region into the police and army.

On Sunday, Ethiopian soldiers fired heavy weapons 11 times from locations near the churches in Lalibela, a deacon said, sending damaging shockwaves through one of the subterranean places of worship.

“The vibrations are affecting the churches,” the deacon said, requesting anonymity for fears of reprisals.

Two residents confirmed the fresh wave of fighting. One said the army was stationed outside Lalibela and by the airport and started fighting on Saturday, firing heavy weapons towards a mountain overlooking the town.

The Ethiopian government, federal army and Amhara’s regional administration did not immediately respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Lidetu Ayalew, an Amhara politician based in the United States who grew up near Lalibela, said he feared the churches could be harmed.

“The churches risk being struck and destroyed due to careless firing of heavy weapons,” he said in a statement on Monday.

Designated a world heritage site by the United Nations in 1978, Lalibela’s 11 medieval cave churches were carved out of monolithic blocks to form a “New Jerusalem”, after Muslim conquests halted Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

The UN in August said in the latest round of fighting in Amhara at least 183 people had been killed in the first month. With internet connections down across the region, Reuters has been unable to obtain a clear picture of the latest situation.

The latest Oromo and Amhara clashes between Friday and Sunday were over farmland in Mesno town in the Oromiya Special Zone, which has a majority Oromo population, two residents said.

“At least 30 people died during the clash while trying to defend their areas and their farmland,” said a priest in the town who did not wish to be identified, adding he had witnessed 12 of the dead being buried.

Ethiopia’s federal government and Amhara region’s government had no immediate comment to Reuters’ requests for comment.

Reporting by Giulia Paravicini and Dawit Endeshaw; writing by Giulia Paravicini and George Obulutsa; editing by Alex Richardson and Jason Neely

2 thoughts on “Uncovering the Truth Behind Fighting in Ethiopia’s Amhara”

  1. Correction needed.
    “Fano fighters battled alongside the army during the war in Tigray….”
    The war was not in Tigray when Fanno forces collaborated with the government. The war was in Amhara and Afar and the aim was to dismantle the Ethiopian state. Fanno fought to protect Amhara from the gang-raping, harvest-burning, church and mosque-demolishing TPLF force.

    BTW, your reporting that goes “two residents said” is so amateurish and with low credibility. If you are worth your journalist salt, you should do better than that and mention credible sources. It just sounds like you are saying whatever you like by citing unverifiable sources.

  2. I just read news that OLA and the regime are back talking again. I hope those kids will grow up at this 2nd pow wow!

    In one way, this shows how the world is changing. Back in the 1960’s and 70’s, to hold talks with groups you call ‘terrorists’ was unthinkable. When talks were held between the Eritrean fronts and the then Ethiopian governments, it was pretty evident that the fronts never engaged in targeting civilians. We can all say the Eritrean fronts used to take extra precaution to avoid civilian casualties. But our ‘fronts’ of these days seem not care about the consequences of their military actions on civilians. In fact, it is abundantly discernible that these fronts go after civilians or civilian quarters and in the process murdering and maiming tens or hundreds in a single raid. They do that when they are starving for publicity. They do that because they never achieved any military success on the battle fronts. If they ever tried to engage government forces, they were licked in one clash after another. Then they take their anger out on innocent civilians falsely accusing them of government agents/lackeys. This has been working for them like a charm. How is that? You may ask. It got them a trip to a glitzy resort in Zanzibar, didn’t it? Now, who knows where it took them this time around. May be now it is time to another exclusive Four Seasons Resorts Villas in Seychelles. They will talk and bust their moves at the dance hall. Then at the end of ‘grueling’ talks they will tell us the usual that they could not arrive at a ‘truce’ but they have agreed to meet again. Jal and his ‘indomitable’ warriors will go back to their usual chores of murdering poor farmers and low wage-earning civil servants and the government will go back honing its skills in the use of drones raining bombs on innocent civilians. That is called a ‘country’, folks!!!

    I am writing this from my ever-standing conviction that there is no reason for any kind of armed struggle in any region in that country. None whatsoever!!!!! Take that to the bank! If some of you war mongers don’t like my unflinching stance on stupid armed struggle, you can jump to your death from a high rise building or jump in the deep end a lake near you. No one will shed tears. Good riddance!!!!!

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