The Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia call for dialogue to solve a new conflict in the northern Amhara region, where violent clashes between federal forces and local militias erupted last week as the African nation faces acute food insecurity due to a prolonged drought.
By Lisa Zengarini
Ethiopian Catholic Bishops have appealed the federal government to step up efforts to find a peaceful solution to the new conflict looming in the northern Amhara region between the military and local armed fighters.
Fighting broke out across Ethiopia’s second most populous region earlier last week between the Fano militiamen and federal troops, prompting Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to declare the state of emergency at the request of Amhara governor, Yelikal Kefale.
Most serious security crisis since war in Tigray
The conflict has quickly become Ethiopia’s most serious security crisis since the two-year civil war in the neighbouring Tigray region that ended with a truce in November 2022.
During the Tigray war, the Ethiopian central government and Fano militia were allies. However, their relations have deteriorated, in part over recent efforts by federal authorities to weaken regional paramilitary groups which, according to some activists, have left Amhara vulnerable to attacks by neighbouring regions.
Violent protests erupted across Amhara in April this year, after Mr. Ahmed ordered that security forces from Ethiopia’s 11 regions be dismantled and integrated into the police or national army.
Need for dialogue to solve the crisis
In a message released on Monday, 7 August, on the occasion of the annual 15-day fast for the Assumption of Mary, and cited by Fides news agency, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Ethiopia have urged both parties to stop the fighting and find a peaceful solution to their differences through dialogue.
At the same time, the bishops invite all people of faith and of good will to pray for justice and peace to prevail in Ethiopia, calling to repentance.
“Everyone rejoiced when peace (in Tigray) was finally achieved through dialogue,” the bishops said. “However, we are saddened to learn that another war has begun before we can even taste its results.”
They recalled that many people were killed, injured and are now suffering economic hardships and psychological trauma in Tigray.
The message, therefore, calls on the federal government to increase its efforts for peace. “We believe that the political will of the government is very important for dialogue to take place,” they say.
Civil war in Tigray
The civil war in Tigray broke out in November 2020, after months of rising tensions, when Tigrayan rebels of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) seized federal military bases in the region.
During two brutal years of fighting, over 3,000 civilians were killed and tens of thousands displaced, adding to the more than 400,000 Sudanese refugees and 600,000 Somalis, Eritreans, Yemenis and Syrians who have fled to the country.
Few places in Tigray have been left unscathed by the fighting. The United Nations, human rights organizations, and journalists documented repeated war crimes, mass killings of civilians and other atrocities, including gang rape, committed both by the Ethiopian troops, Tigrayan fighters, as well as Eritrean forces who joined the Ethiopian army to fight the TPLF rebels.
Humanitarian aid desperately needed
The conflict has left the Tigray region in dire need of humanitarian aid which has been slow to arrive, also due to ongoing insecurity.
In May this year, USAid, the lead US government agency for international development, temporarily suspended its food assistance to Tigray after it was uncovered that the food was being diverted and sold on the local market.
Bishop Tesfaselassie Medhin of the Eparchy of Adigrat, while acknowledging the need for more controls and transparency in the distribution of food, decried that the interruption of humanitarian assistance will affect the most needy in the region.