The town of Lalibela, a United Nations World Heritage Site, is the latest in a string of towns the military has retaken and the Ethiopian government forces and their regional allies have recaptured from Tigrayan forces, the prime minister’s office said on Wednesday.
“The historic town of Lalibela has been liberated,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said in a tweet.
Also on Wednesday, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi arrived in Addis Ababa. This prompted Ethiopia’s foreign ministry to thank him in a tweet for “disregarding the unfounded rhetoric on the deteriorating security situations in the country”.
The capture of Lalibela, home to ancient rock-hewn churches and a holy site for millions of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians, is a significant symbolic gain for the government.
Early in August, Forces aligned with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) took control of the town, in the Amhara region.
On Wednesday, Abiy’s office said Ethiopian soldiers also now controlled the town of Shewa Robit, 220 km (136 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa, and eight other towns and villages.
Gains by the military in Afar and Amhara would be a blow to Tigrayan forces, who had threatened to either advance further southwards through Amhara and march on the capital, or head eastwards and threaten a road linking landlocked Ethiopia to the region’s main port.
The conflict that began in November 2020 between the federal government and the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) has killed thousands of civilians, forced millions to flee their homes, and made more than 9 million people dependent on food aid.