Ethiopian military pushes back militiamen in two Amhara towns
PHOTO CAPTION: A partial view of the Lalibela town in the Amhara Region, Ethiopia, January 25, 2022. Picture taken January 25, 2022. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri//File Photo
By Dawit Endeshaw
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) -Ethiopia's military has pushed local militiamen out of two major towns in the Amhara region, residents said on Wednesday, in its first major battlefield breakthroughs since fighting erupted last week.
The Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) gained control on Tuesday of the centre of Gondar, Amhara's second-biggest city, and entered the holy town of Lalibela on Wednesday after militiamen left, the residents said.
Ethiopian Airlines, meanwhile, announced that flights to Gondar and Amhara's capital, Bahir Dar - where fighting has also occurred - would resume on Thursday.
Gondar and Lalibela were among the towns where the Fano militia overran the ENDF last week in Ethiopia's most serious security crisis since a two-year civil war in the northern Tigray region ended last November.
The part-time militia draws volunteers from the local Amhara population. It was an ally of the ENDF during the Tigray war but the relationship later deteriorated over accusations the federal government was trying to weaken Amhara's defences against neighbouring regions, which the government denies.
The government of Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country and one of its biggest economies, declared a state of emergency on Friday and rushed soldiers to the frontlines.
Spokespeople for the government and military did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.
A Fano militiaman from Gondar told Reuters that the ENDF, backed by anti-riot police and pro-government militiamen, had pushed the Fano fighters out of the city on Tuesday.
"It was intense fighting. ENDF was using tanks. Our fighters were just using Kalashnikovs," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
A local official in Gondar said the military was "almost in full control of the city". Another Gondar resident said he had seen the military enter the city centre on Tuesday afternoon.
Two Lalibela residents told Reuters that ENDF troops entered the town on Wednesday morning following intense fighting on Lalibela's outskirts the previous day.
Two residents in Bahir Dar said calm had returned on Wednesday after several days of fighting.
Amhara's regional administration posted a statement on its Facebook page late on Tuesday saying Gondar and the regional capital Bahir Dar had been "freed" from Fano, but the statement was no longer there on Wednesday.
A spokesperson for the regional administration did not respond to a request for comment.
Little information has filtered out of Amhara about the human toll of the fighting so far, but Lalibela residents told Reuters on Tuesday that more than a dozen combatants had been killed over the previous days.
(Writing by Aaron Ross, Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)