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Ethiopia: Tigray fighters recapture Lalibela, residents say

December 12, 2021

Residents of Lalibela, home to a UN World Heritage site, said the fighters have retaken it "without firing guns." Ethiopian forces and their allies had taken control of the town less than two weeks ago.

Amhara Fano militia fighters walk in the ransacked terminal at the Lalibela airport in Lalibela, on December 7, 2021
Tigray forces first took control of Lalibela in early August, but in December government troops recaptured the town before losing once again to the rebelsImage: AFP via Getty Images

Tigray forces have recaptured the north Ethiopian town of Lalibela, 11 days after government forces said they had taken it back, witnesses reported on Sunday.

Lalibela, located in the Amhara region 645 kilometers (400 miles) north of the capital Addis Ababa, is home to a UNESCO world heritage site and an important pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Christians.

The military leadership of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) said in a statement shared with pro-TPLF media that they had launched "widespread counter-offensives" in several locations.

Orthodox underground monolithic church carved into the rock in Lalibela
Image: Artush Foto/Zoonar/picture alliance

What did the residents say?

Citing a witness, Reuters news agency reported that residents had begun fleeing Lalibela. "We panicked, we never saw this coming. TPLF forces are now patrolling the town wearing their uniforms," the witness said.

Another witness told Reuters that special forces from the Amhara region and their militia allies — both allies of the Ethiopian government — began leaving Lalibela on Saturday night.

"The last batch left this morning. We heard gunshots from a distance last night but the Tigrayan forces recaptured Lalibela without firing guns in the town," the witness, a hotel receptionist, told Reuters.

Tigrayan fighters "are in the town centre, there's no fighting," a resident told the AFP news agency over the phone. "They came back. They're already here," said another.

Communications have been cut in the conflict zone and access for journalists is restricted.

What is the situation in Ethiopia?

Fighters had taken control of Lalibela in early August, but on December 1, Ethiopian troops and their Amhara regional allies recaptured the town.

War erupted in November 2020 between Ethiopian federal troops and forces loyal to the TPLF group, the ruling party of Tigray. The conflict has killed thousands of civilians, displaced millions, and has left hundreds of thousands in famine-like conditions.

The conflict prompted countries such as the United States, France and Britain to urge their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible.

Diplomatic efforts led by the African Union to try to reach a cease-fire have failed to achieve any visible breakthrough.

mvb/fb (AFP, Reuters)