Flights cancelled after clashes in Ethiopia’s Amhara region

THURSDAY AUGUST 03 2023

Ethiopian Airlines said on Thursday that it had cancelled flights to two cities in Amhara after Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen said he was worried by the escalation of violence in the northern region.

Clashes between federal troops and local fighters have led Britain and Spain to issue security warnings to their nationals, with the UK’s Foreign Office saying that the Amhara militia Fano had taken over the airport in Lalibela, a Unesco World Heritage site.

“Flights to Gondar and Lalibela airports have been suspended,” Ethiopian Airlines Spokesman Ashenafi Zeray told AFP by phone, adding that he did not know the reason for the cancellations.

He said flights to Lalibela — a tourist town famous for its 12th and 13th century rock-cut churches — were cancelled on Tuesday afternoon.

He could not specify when the airline took similar action in the case of Gondar.

The federal government’s decision in April to dismantle regional forces established by some states prompted violent protests in Amhara, with Amhara nationalists claiming the move would weaken Ethiopia’s second most populous region.

Late Wednesday, Mekonnen said that “the security problems that are seen in different areas of Amhara region are becoming worrisome”.

“We are at a historical time where we should be mindful of the fact that if you don’t have peace, you will lose everything’,” he posted on Facebook.

Ethiopian Army Spokesman Getnet Adane told a press conference this week that fighters claiming to belong to Fano were responsible for the violence.

“We will take actions against those who in any way attack our army or facilitate attacks”, he said, denouncing fighters “who are acting in the name of Fano”.

Britain’s Foreign Office warned its citizens against travelling to certain parts of Amhara, citing “increased violence in these areas characterised by Fano taking control of these areas”.

“Most recently Lalibela Airport has been taken over by Fano militias,” it said.

A Lalibela resident who spoke to AFP on the condition of anonymity also said the airport was under Fano’s control.

“Clashes were continuing on the outskirts of Lalibela,” he said.

“Fano have also blocked the roads leading to the city”, he added.

The Spanish Embassy in Addis Ababa on Tuesday urged its nationals not to travel to Amhara, citing “instability” in the region.

“Spaniards who are in Lalibela are advised not to leave their hotels or homes and contact the Embassy in Addis Ababa,” it said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Amhara’s regional forces and local militias backed federal troops in their two-year war against Tigrayan rebels, until a peace deal was signed in November 2022, angering Amhara nationalists.

Despite the peace agreement, Amhara “special forces” and Fano fighters continue to control Western Tigray, an area claimed by both the Amhara and Tigrayans.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in April that the decision to disband regional forces and integrate them into the national army or regional police would bolster multi-ethnic Ethiopia’s “unity”.