“Lalibela is a place of pilgrimage, devotion and peace: it should not be a place for instigating violence and conflict,” says a statement from the UN body
Days after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) took control of the historic Lalibela town, the UN is expressing concern about UNESCO’s World Heritage Site.
“UNESCO wishes to express its deep concern about the reports on the expansion of the conflict to the city of Lalibela (Ethiopia), which hosts the Rock-Hewn Churches,” said in a statement issued on Friday this week.
Lalibela, a 12th century power centre from where King Lalibela ruled Ethiopia, has 12 rock hewn churches which UNESCO included in its list of World heritage in 1978.
Tigray rebels targeted it as they took the war outside the region after the Federal government declared a unilateral humanitarian ceasefire at the end of June 2021.
Eyewitnesses from the town said there was no fighting when the TPLF forces entered the town, as regional government forces and militia avoided military engagement.
However, the latest reports from the region indicate that there is a fighting to dislodge the rebel forces from Ethiopia’s Jerusalem.
Unclear if there is any damage to the heritage at this point.
The UN agency said in its statement “UNESCO calls for the respect of all relevant obligations under international law in ensuring the protection of the Outstanding Universal Value and legacy of this precious site by refraining from any act that may expose it to damage, and by taking all necessary precautions to prevent any attempts of looting and pillaging cultural properties located in the area.”
Furthermore, it said, “Lalibela is a place of pilgrimage, devotion and peace: it should not be a place for instigating violence and conflict.”
With what seems to be tacit support from the United States and the European Union, Tigray rebels forces are emboldened and vow to march to the capital Addis Ababa.
Meanwhile, unconfirmed pictures circulating on social media shows captured Sudanese forces fighting alongside the Tigrean rebel forces. Yet, Sudan has been offering to mediate the rebels and government, which the latter rejected on grounds that Sudan lacks credibility.
Sudan occupied Ethiopian territories as the Ethiopian Defense Force was withdrawn from the area in November 2020 to respond to the war that TPLF triggered when it attacked several bases of the Northern Command Post.
Sudan on Sunday disclosed that it recalled its Ambassador to Addis Ababa.