Tigrayan forces have recaptured the town of Lalibela in Ethiopia, less than two weeks after government forces and their allies took control, witnesses told Reuters on Sunday.
Lalibela is a town in the Amhara region and a United Nations World Heritage site.
Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not respond to requests for comment on the reported recapture of the town by forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda also did not respond to a phone call seeking comment.
One of the witnesses who spoke to Reuters said that special forces from the Amhara region and their militia allies, both of whom are allies of the Ethiopian government, began leaving Lalibela on Saturday night.
“The last batch left this morning. We heard gunshots from a distance last night but the Tigrayan forces recaptured Lalibela without firing guns in the town,” said the witness, a hotel receptionist, by phone.
Forces aligned with the TPLF had taken control of the town in early August.
But on Dec. 1, Ethiopian troops and their Amhara regional allies recaptured the town. That news was one of a number of reported gains on the battlefield against the Tigrayan forces, who had in November pushed south and threatened to march on Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
The year-old conflict between the federal government and the leadership of the northern region of Tigray has killed thousands of civilians, forced millions to flee their homes, and made more than 9 million people dependent on food aid.
A second witness told Reuters on Sunday that residents had begun fleeing the town. “We panicked, we never saw this coming. TPLF forces are now patrolling the town wearing their uniforms,” the witness said.
Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean