Ethiopia’s Lalibela rocked by artillery fire: residentsThu, 21 Sep 2023 17:16:30 GMT

The historic Ethiopian town of Lalibela was rocked by the sound of heavy artillery on Wednesday as federal government troops fired towards areas where local militias were believed to be hiding, residents said.Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage site, lies in the region of Amhara, which has for months been the scene of fighting between the national army and a local militia known as Fano. The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed imposed a six-month state of emergency in early August after the Amhara clashes erupted, raising concerns about Ethiopia’s stability just months after a peace deal ended a two-year war in neighbouring Tigray.From Wednesday evening “heavy artillery was used from inside the city to the outskirts of Lalibela where allegedly Fano are there in the forest area,” said Lalibela resident and tourism sector worker Ayalew, who did not want to give his full name.”I am inside my home for now and they (Ethiopian troops) are going door to door, checking youths for possible Fano supporters,” he told AFP Thursday, adding that he could hear sporadic gunfire.It is impossible to verify the situation on the ground in Amhara as media access to the region is heavily restricted.Aneley, a tuk-tuk (three-wheeled taxi) driver, said the sound of artillery was “very heavy” and lasted through the night Wednesday, adding that soldiers were arresting any youths found outside.A 38-year-old shopkeeper who requested anonymity said Lalibela was now quiet, with banks functioning and some public transport operating although there had been no internet for several weeks.”But there is high level of tension and fear, with soldiers often beating residents as well as stealing (from them),” he said, recounting numerous arrests.Lalibela is renowned for its rock-hewn churches but like other cities in Amhara was also caught up in the brutal war between government forces and Tigrayan rebels as well as the latest regional clashes.Amhara’s regional forces fought alongside federal government troops in the Tigray war. But in April, Abiy’s government announced it was dismantling regional forces across the country, triggering protests by Amhara nationalists who said it would weaken their region.Ethiopia’s human rights body on Friday accused federal forces of carrying out extra-judicial killings in Amhara and mass arbitrary detentions in the region and elsewhere.And on Monday, the UN-backed Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia said the situation in Africa’s second most populous country remained “extremely grave”.”Atrocities, war crimes and crimes against humanity are still being committed in the country,” the commission said.Beyond Tigray, the experts warned that “hostilities in Ethiopia are now at a national scale, with significant violations increasing particularly in Amhara region, but also ongoing in Oromia and elsewhere”.ayv/txw/ach