Forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region have taken control of the town of Lalibela, whose famed rock-hewn churches are a United Nations World Heritage Site, and residents were fleeing, two eyewitnesses told Reuters on Thursday.
Lalibela, also a holy site for millions of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, is in the North Wollo Zone of the Amhara region in Ethiopia’s north. In recent weeks fighting has spread from Tigray into two neighbouring regions, Amhara and Afar, forcing around 250,000 people to flee.
Senior officials from the United Nations and the United States government who visited Ethiopia this week raised alarm at the widening of the war in Tigray to other parts of northern Ethiopia. read more
Seyfu, a resident of Lalibela who spoke to Reuters by phone, said he saw hundreds of armed men speaking Tigrinya, the language of ethnic Tigrayans, walking through the town on Thursday. He said they were not speaking Amharic, the language of the people of Lalibela, and were wearing “different uniforms” from those of the federal military.
Seyfu said forces from the Amhara region, which are allied to Ethiopia’s central government, fled on Wednesday night together with local officials.
“We asked them to stay, or at least give us their Kalashnikovs, but they refused and fled taking five ambulances, several trucks and cars. They shot dead a friend of mine while they fled, he was begging them to stay to protect civilians,” he said.
A second man, Dawit, told Reuters by phone he left Lalibela on Thursday morning as Tigrayan forces were arriving. “We had to walk with on foot, around 200 of us left.”
Reuters could not independently verify the eyewitnesses’ information. Spokespeople for the prime minister, the Ethiopian military and a government task force on Tigray did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Tigrayan forces could also not be reached for comment.