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Ethiopia: Tigray rebels recapture world heritage site Lalibela

By 'Tofe Ayeni
Posted on Monday, 13 December 2021 12:34

In this 8 May 2021 file photo, Ethiopian government soldiers drive on a road near Agula, north of Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.
In this 8 May 2021 file photo, Ethiopian government soldiers drive on a road near Agula, north of Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. © Ben Curtis/AP/SIPA

Eleven days after the federal government said they had retaken control of the historic town of Lalibela, witness accounts say the Tigrayran rebels have regained their hold of the area.

On 12 December, residents of Lalibela, a town in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, reported that Tigrayan rebels had retaken control from the Ethiopian government, who had taken the heritage site from rebels just 11 days earlier.

The town, known as Ethiopia’s Christian holy city, is renowned for its 11 rock-hewn churches dating from the 12th and 13th centuries and is a popular pilgrimage site for Christians.

Tigrayan soldiers took back the town without fighting, witnesses say.

Journalists have limited access in the conflict zone, and communication is rare and difficult.

The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) said in a statement to pro-TPLF media that it had launched “widespread counter-offensives” in various locations, including along a road linking Gashena and Lalibela.

The statement said: “Our forces first defended and then carried out counter-offensives against the massive force that was attacking the front at Gashema and the surrounding areas to achieve a glorious victory.”

The war in Ethiopia broke out on 4 November 2020 and has been defined as a “full-scale humanitarian crisis” by the UN. The conflict has left approximately 2.2 million people displaced, and famine has been officially declared in the region, with the UN stating that the war has plunged 9.4 million people “into a critical situation of food assistance” in the regions of Tigray, Afar and Amhara. There have been reports of mass rapes and massacres by both the TPLF and forces linked to the Abiy administration.

Diplomatic efforts from the AU and the West have failed to ease the situation.

The war in Ethiopia is showing no signs of a close end, with towns now frequently changing hands between Abiy’s government and the Tigrayan rebels.

Hopes remain that Lalibela, which witnessed a deep decline in tourism first due to the Covid-19 pandemic, then due to the conflict – will be spared violence.

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