by H. Haverstock, The Chicago Times

August 5, 2021

ADDIS ABABA — Forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region have taken control of Lalibela, whose famed rock-hewn churches are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and residents are fleeing, according to two eyewitnesses on Thursday.

Lalibela, a holy site for millions of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, is located in the Amhara region’s North Wollo Zone in northern Ethiopia.  Tens of thousands of visitors from Ethiopia and abroad usually flock to Lalibela on Orthodox Easter weekend to celebrate and witness the most important holiday in the Orthodox calendar, which is home to a UNESCO World Heritage site of 12th and 13th century monolithic churches.

Fighting has recently spread from Tigray into two neighboring regions, Amhara and Afar, forcing approximately 250,000 people to flee.  Senior United Nations and US government officials who visited Ethiopia this week expressed concern about the spread of the conflict in Tigray to other parts of northern Ethiopia.  Lalibela is a popular tourist destination in Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country.  After a war broke out in Tigray in November between the federal army and the Tigray People’s Liberation Forces (TPLF), visitor numbers plummeted.

After seizing Mekelle, the regional capital, the government declared victory at the end of that month.  However, the TPLF persisted in its fight and, at the end of June, retook Mekelle and most of Tigray after government troops withdrew.