English translation of the VRT NWS (Belgium) article published on 5 August 2021: https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2021/08/05/volksfront-van-tigray-verovert-de-oude-koningsstad-lalibela-in-d/
In Ethiopia, troops from Tigray are said to have captured the well-known city of Lalibela. That city with its underground rock churches is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the conquest would mainly show that the TPLF front has now moved far over the border with the neighboring and hostile province of Amhara. If the message is confirmed, it will threaten to further unravel Ethiopia’s stability.
Jos De Greef
News of the capture was reported by some Lalibela residents to the Reuters and AFP news agencies. They said there were no soldiers in the area and there was no fighting. The Ethiopian government could not be reached for comment. The TPLF, the People’s Front for the Liberation of Tigray, has not officially responded either.
If the message is correct, it will be another blow to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, but above all it shows that the Tigrayan forces of the TPLF have already moved a long way across the border with Amhara. That province is south of Tigray and there is hostility between the two peoples in Ethiopia. Amhara militias supported the Ethiopian army’s incursion into Tigray, late last year. That province seemed largely conquered until the TPLF was able to drive the invaders out of large parts of Tigray a few months ago through a surprise offensive.
Recently, Tigray’s troops have also been active in the eastern province of Afar and now also in Amhara. Tigray and Amhara also dispute a number of rich agricultural areas.
Lalibela is named after the founding king in the 12th century. He would have seen a vision of Jerusalem and therefore decided to build a copy in his kingdom. Lalibela is best known for rock-hewn churches and declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco, the United Nations Cultural Organization.
The city of Lalibela succeeded Axum in Tigray as the second center of the Ethiopian empire. Afterwards, the centre of the empire shifted under the “dynasty of Solomon” to Gondar -also in Amhara- and then even further south in the highlands, in Addis Ababa. That is still the capital of Ethiopia. (Continue reading below the photo).
Conflict already far beyond Tigray’s borders
The capture of Lalibela is emblematic of many things: among others, the failure of the war that the Ethiopian Prime Minister and Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy Ahmed started in November last year. If he initially appeared to control the insurgent province of Tigray with the support of Amhara militias and troops from neighbouring Eritrea, that has now been completely reversed.
The TPLF or People’s Liberation Front for Tigray has not only recaptured most of the province, but has also recently entered the borders of the neighboring provinces, namely Afar in the east and Amhara in the south.
These are not the only headaches for the government in Addis Ababa: even without Tigray, Abiy Ahmed is facing ever-growing internal tensions: ethnic groups have hit a western province on the border with Sudan, elsewhere there is growing violence between the Amhara and the Oromo (Ethiopia’s two largest population groups) and more recently between the Somali minority and the population of Afar in the east of the country. Ethiopia, with more than 110 million inhabitants, is also one of the most populous countries in Africa and had experienced rapid economic growth in recent decades.