Local militia gains control of three towns in volatile Ethiopian region

Residents on Saturday reported that local fighters had taken control of three towns in Ethiopia’s Amhara region after clashes with the national army, leading the federal government to declare a “state of emergency”.

The recent turmoil in Africa’s second-most populous nation arises merely nine months after the conclusion of a destructive two-year conflict in the adjacent Tigray region, which also involved combatants from Amhara.

On Friday, the government announced that these limitations would apply to Amhara “over a six-month period,” with the possibility of expanding “nationwide” in response to any circumstances or actions that exacerbate the security challenges.

Since April, tensions have been escalating following the federal government’s announcement of disbanding regional forces throughout Ethiopia. This decision sparked protests from Amhara nationalists who argued that it would undermine the strength of the northern region.

In the past few weeks, conflicts in Amhara have intensified, leading foreign governments to issue travel advisories and flights to be suspended. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office declared on Friday that emergency measures were necessary “to control this unacceptable movement.”

As reported by Lalibela residents, a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned for its rock-hewn churches dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries, the local militia group known as Fano seized authority over the town and its airport earlier this week.

Although shops were operational on Saturday, the streets remained mostly empty, as described by Lalibela resident Aneley in a statement to media.

“Lalibela is calm, no fighting… (but) people’s movement isn’t like it used to be before,” he stated, mentioning that the town is grappling with occasional power cuts and disruptions in internet connectivity.

On Friday, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission reported incidents of civilians being targeted, leading to property damage. Additionally, there were disruptions in transportation services and internet access in certain parts of the Amhara region.

Cloudflare, a web security company, informed media that they observed a decline in internet traffic in Amhara around 18:00 UTC (GMT) on Wednesday.

The national airline, Ethiopian Airlines, has suspended flights to Dessie, Lalibela, and Gondar.

The United States has conveyed its “concern” regarding the violence, and both Britain and Spain have issued advisories cautioning their citizens against traveling to specific areas within Amhara.

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