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Ethiopia: Salesian missionaries arrested in Addis Ababa

Amid a recently declared state of emergency, Ethiopian authorities have begun a crackdown on people that the government says are “supporters” of the rebellious Tigrayan forces. The arrests have included Salesian missionaries, as well as 72 humanitarian aid truck drivers and 16 other UN humanitarian staffers.

By Vatican News staff writer

Government forces in Ethiopia raided a centre run by the Salesians of Don Bosco in Addis Ababa and arrested 17 people, including priests, religious brothers, and employees, amid a general climate of uncertainty and tension in the country brought about by the year-long war between the government and Tigrayan forces.

Reports say that the raid was carried out on 5 November on a centre in Gottera, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, and the 17 people who were arrested were taken to an unknown destination. The motive for their arrest remains unclear.

Meanwhile, the Salesians, who have worked in Ethiopia since 1975, are continuing to pray for peace and unity in the country, and for the safe return of their arrested brothers.

Tense situation

The war in Ethiopia has not spared civilians, as thousands have died and millions have been displaced, forced to flee from their homes in search of safer environments. The situation has been made worse by famine-like conditions, especially in the northern region of Tigray, where government blockades have been set up to deny food, medicine and other aid from reaching Tigrayan forces.

On 2 November, the Ethiopian government declared a six-month state of emergency after the dissident Tigrayan forces claimed to have gained control of two strategic towns and were considering marching on Addis Ababa.

The state of emergency permits the government to impose a curfew and arrest people suspected of supporting the Tigrayan forces who have been fighting the government for the past year.

Government crackdown

The head of the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Daniel Bekele, said on Sunday that the commission had received reports of arrests of Tigrayans in the capital, and was monitoring the arrests.

Police denied targeting the Tigrayan ethnic group, saying those arrested were believed to have links to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

On Wednesday, the UN said that Ethiopian security forces arrested and detained some 72 aid-delivering truck drivers who were working for the World Food Programme (WFP) in Semera, the regional capital of Afar, and the gateway for aid convoys struggling to reach the Tigray region.

The day before, on Tuesday, the UN said that 16 members of its local staff and their dependents were arrested in Addis Ababa. The ethnicity of the detained UN staffers was not immediately clear, though sources say they are Tigrayan.

In early October, Ethiopian authorities expelled seven senior UN officials, accusing them of meddling in the internal affairs of the country.

Churches not spared

In an interview with Vatican News, Fr. Giuseppe Cavallini, a Comboni missionary who has served in Ethiopia for 30 years, explained that even churches have not been spared amid the government crackdown.

“A few days ago," he said, “the military entered the [Orthodox] Cathedral of [the Holy Trinity in] Addis Ababa looking for people of Tigrinya ethnicity. And these raids are being done throughout the capital."

Fr. Cavallini also notes that many churches and missions in other places, including Tigray, have been looted or destroyed amid the fighting. He recalls, in particular, a Combonian mission in the western region Benishangul which was razed to the ground, forcing the priests and nuns to flee.

(Correction on 4 December: A previous version of this article stated that the Ethiopian federal police entered the Catholic Cathdral in Addis Ababa, instead of the Orthodox Cathedral. We misattributed the location due to an imprecision on the part of the interviewee. Our apologies.)

11 November 2021, 12:59