The Bet Medhane Alem rock church, a part of the UNESCO world heritage site in Lalibela The Bet Medhane Alem rock church, a part of the UNESCO world heritage site in Lalibela 

Ethiopia: Tigrayan forces take control of UNESCO heritage site

Authorities express concern as forces loyal to the dissident Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have taken control of Lalibela, a holy site for Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and home to 12th/13th century rock-hewn churches that are a UNESCO world heritage site.

By Vatican News staff writer

Forces from Ethiopia’s conflict-ridden Tigray region have taken control of the town of Lalibela, a world heritage site of the UN’s educational, scientific and cultural organization, located in the neighbouring Amhara region.

Lalibela, home to 12th -13th-century rock-hewn churches, is a holy site for millions of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and is a major tourist destination in Africa’s second most populous nation.

The churches in Lalibela were designated a UNESCO world heritage site in 1978.

Concern of authorities

Confirming the take-over, the deputy mayor of Lalibela, Mandefro Tadesse, told news sources that the town was under the control of the Tigrayan forces. He said that there had not been any shooting but expressed concern about the safety of the heritage site.

Meanwhile, the US State Department has also called on the combatants to respect the cultural heritage in Lalibela and appealed to all parties to put an end to the 9-month-long conflict.

Widening conflict

Thousands have been killed in the war that broke out last November after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered government forces to launch an offensive against forces belonging to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in retaliation for an attack on an army base. The federal forces seized Mekelle, the Tigrayan capital, and declared victory at the end of that month but the TPLF continued fighting.

In recent weeks, the fighting in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region has extended into the regions of Amhara and Afar, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee the rebel advance.

This latest development follows increasing territorial gains made by the dissident Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) since June, after recapturing the Tigrayan regional capital, Mekelle, and forcing federal troops to pull back.

The Ethiopian government announced a unilateral ceasefire in the Tigray region in late June as part of efforts to bring an end to the conflict, but the TPLF have rejected it and issued a new list of demands that they insist must be met before engaging in ceasefire talks.

The war has led to a worsening humanitarian situation that has pushed approximately 400,000 people into famine conditions and put an estimated 100,000 children at risk of acute malnutrition in the next year. More than two million people have been displaced and millions more are dependent on food and humanitarian aid for survival.

Government restriction of access to the Tigray region has posed a major setback to humanitarian aid as supplies are dwindling and basic services are almost non-existent.

Earlier this week, the UN decried Ethiopian government accusations that aid workers were biased in favour of rebel forces in the Tigray region. Two international aid groups were also ordered to suspend their operations amid this latest friction between Ethiopian authorities and aid organizations.

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06 August 2021, 11:20