Ethiopia’s military has pushed local militiamen out of most of Gondar, a large city where intense fighting has raged since clashes broke out across the Amhara region last week, residents and a militia member said.
The military’s success in Gondar, Amahara’s second biggest city, is the first significant breakthrough for federal forces, who were overrun by Fano militiamen there and in some other towns when fighting broke out in early August.
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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 Fano fighter from Gondar told Reuters news agency that the Ethiopian National Defense Force (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.
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.
The unrest has quickly become Ethiopia’s most serious security crisis since a two-year civil war in the Tigray region, which borders Amhara, ended last November.
The escalation in violence in Amhara prompted Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government to declare a six-month state of emergency there last week.
Fano is a part-time militia that draws volunteers from the local 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 – a charge the government denies.
Amhara authorities late on Tuesday issued a statement insisting that “the violence that happened recently in some areas of our region, which was aided by extremist and predatory power-hungry groups, is returning to relative peace and stability in all areas of the region”.
The violence has made humanitarian operations difficult in the region, according to the World Health Organization.
On Tuesday, Ethiopian Airlines cancelled flights to Bahir Dar, saying it would not fly to any airports in the Amhara region.
The United States has “expressed concern” about the clashes, while Australia, Britain and Spain have advised their citizens against travelling to Amhara.