Tigray rebels retake Lalibela in Ethiopia: Residents

AFP , Sunday 12 Dec 2021

Tigray rebels on Sunday recaptured the north Ethiopian town of Lalibela, home to a UNESCO world heritage site, local residents told AFP, 11 days after Ethiopian forces said they had taken it back.

Lalilbela is home to 11 medieval monolithic cave churches hewn into the red rock and is a key pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Christians. AFP

Tigrayan fighters "are in the town centre, there's no fighting," said a resident reached by telephone on Sunday afternoon. "They came back. They're already here," said another.

The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group's military leadership said in a statement shared with pro-TPLF media they had launched "widespread counter-offensives" in numerous locations including along the road linking Gashena and Lalibela.

"Our forces first defended and then carried out counter-offensives against the massive force that was attacking the front at Gashena and the surrounding areas to achieve a glorious victory," it said.

Communications have been cut in the conflict zone and access for journalists is restricted making it difficult to verify the claims.

The government did not immediately respond to AFP's requests for comment.

War in northern Ethiopia erupted in November 2020 after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent the army to the northern Tigray region to remove local authorities from the TPLF who challenged his authority and whom he accused of having attacked military bases.

The rebels recaptured most of Tigray at the end of June, then advanced into the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara.

The more than 13 months of conflict have plunged 9.4 million people "into a critical situation of food assistance" in the regions of Tigray, Afar and Amhara, the United Nations says.

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