Ethiopia: Tigray’s religious leaders ask Pope to reiterate peace appeal
By Vatican News staff writer
As Ethiopia’s government troops and Tigrayan rebel forces face-off and continue to beat the war drums, the devastating toll of the 13-month-long conflict spreads through the nation, affecting both state institutions, socio-economic stability and the civilian population.
The latest news reports say that Tigrayan forces have retaken the historical town of Lalibela, 11 days after government forces had taken control.
Lalibela, located in the Amhara region, is home to ancient rock-hewn churches and has been designated as a United Nations World Heritage Site. It is also a pilgrimage site for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church
The government offensive in the northern region of Tigray had recently made some gains in the war that sparked a humanitarian crisis, with more than 9 million people depending on food aid to survive.
In August, Lalibela had been captured by rebel forces who lost control of the territory to government troops less than two weeks ago. Witnesses reported that federal forces started leaving the town on Saturday night and the Tigrayan forces recaptured Lalibela without firing guns in the town.
The fighting in Ethiopia which broke out in November last year began after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched an offensive against the Tigray’s People Liberation Front (TPLF) after he said they had attacked army camps.
In June this year, the rebels started fighting back, recapturing some territory and advancing into neighbouring Amhara and Afar.
However, more recently, the government offensive began to regain control of many towns. Earlier this month, the government announced that it had recaptured the strategic towns of Dessie and Kombolcha, and also Shewa Robit, a town 135 miles from the capital Addis Ababa. In late November, the government also said that its forces were in control of the town of Chifra in Afar region.
Appeal for peace
As the conflict that has killed thousands of civilians and forced millions to flee their homes in search of safer conditions drags on, a growing chorus of voices has been calling for peace and an end to the violence. On more than one occasion Pope Francis has expressed concern for the suffering population and appealed that the peaceful path of dialogue may prevail.
The Tigray Diaspora Inter-Religious Council (TDIRC) has called on Pope Francis to do everything within his power to stop another “Rwanda-type genocide” in Ethiopia. Rwanda, located in East Africa, suffered a genocide in the mid-1990s which left an estimated 800,000 people dead in a clash between the Tutsi and Hutu peoples.
In their letter addressed to the Pope earlier this month, TDIRC said that the people of Tigray are “enduring unimaginable atrocities” at the hands of the Ethiopian army and its war partners.
“Civilians in many towns, including Mekelle, the capital city of Tigray, are being indiscriminately killed by air bombardments, and access to basic needs such as medicines, food, water, and communications and banking services remain blocked by the Ethiopian government,” TDIRC said.
The religious leaders further decried the fact that humanitarian aid agencies have been denied access to Tigray, which has contributed in exacerbating the humanitarian situation. As a result, children are dying of famine, health institutions are barely functional and are largely under-equipped.
In the letter, the TDIRC also pointed to ongoing human rights abuses such as "ethnic profiling harassment, discrimination and mass detention" in all parts of Ethiopia and they appeal for the release of detained ethnic Tigrayans and other Ethiopians.
TDIRC requested the Pope to reiterate his previous appeals for peace and to “continue praying for peace."