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Ethiopia: The Army Has “Liberated” Major Towns In Amhara, According To The Govt

The Ethiopian government announced on Wednesday that major towns in the northern Amhara region had been “liberated”, after several days of deadly fighting between the federal army and local militias.

Residents interviewed by AFP also reported the advance of Ethiopian forces.

The General Directorate of the State of Emergency, a government body, later claimed that six major Amhara towns had been “freed from the threat of bandits”: the regional capital Bahir Dar, Lalibela, Gondar, Shewa Robit, Debre Berhan and Debre Markos. A curfew has been imposed in all six towns.

No official figures on the fighting have been released, but two doctors in Bahir Dar and Gondar reported that many civilians were killed or wounded.

The government declared a state of emergency for six months on Friday, following an upsurge in violence in this part of Africa’s second most populous country, just nine months after the end of a devastating conflict in the neighbouring region of Tigray.

Amhara troops, including regional “special forces” and the nationalist Fano militia, were key allies of the government during the war between November 2020 and November 2022.

But they have been at odds with the federal authorities since April, after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced his intention to disband these “special forces”, paramilitary units created by many regional states over the last fifteen years. Amhara nationalists see this as a move to weaken their region.

After several days of clashes, however, federal forces appear to have repelled the fighters. On Tuesday evening, the Amhara government announced the return of “relative peace and stability”, and on Wednesday, the General Directorate of the State of Emergency stated that federal forces were “in the process of dispersing” the militia fighters.

As access to the region is restricted, it is not possible to independently verify the situation on the ground.

– Tanks –

Earlier in the day, residents contacted by AFP reported that Fano fighters had been pushed back by the army in Gondar and Lalibela, a Unesco World Heritage site for its ancient rock-hewn churches.

“Things seem to be changing today,” said Simachew, a tuktuk driver in Gondar: “The ENDF (army) has taken control of most parts of the city after heavy fighting in recent days.”

“The engagement has been supported by tanks and armored vehicles which are still in the city”, he continued, claiming that “the Fano have been pushed back into just one neighborhood”, where fighting is “still ongoing”.

In Lalibela, “the Fano have left the town and are in the surrounding forest”, said Ayalew, a local resident.

Ethiopian Airlines announced that it would resume flights to Bahir Dar and Gondar on Thursday. Services to Lalibela and Dessie airports remain suspended.

– Civilians killed –

In Gondar, a doctor at the university hospital told AFP that since Friday, “around 20” civilians had died “after arriving at the hospital”.

“More than 190 (other) people were wounded and brought to hospital, most of them civilians,” he added on condition of anonymity.

“We’re running out of food and medicine (…) Patients are dying for lack of oxygen and blood”, he stressed.

In Bahir Dar, a doctor at the Felege Hiwot hospital said the facility had received 140 wounded civilians, 10 of whom had died.

Ambulances are no longer in circulation due to the fighting, and “people come here on foot with their families, who carry them on their shoulders at their own risk”, he explained.

The NGO Save the Children warned on Wednesday of the dangers for civilians.

“We call on the warring parties to prioritize the safety of civilians and allow humanitarian aid to reach those in need, including 580,000 people already displaced by the previous conflict” in Tigray, urged its director in Ethiopia, Xavier Joubert, in a statement.

On Sunday, the World Health Organization called for “uninterrupted access and protection of the health system in Amhara”, so that it and its partners “can continue to work there”.

In Addis Ababa, the federal capital, journalist Bekal Alamirew was arrested at his home on Sunday and is still in prison, a relative told AFP.



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