By Lisa Zengarini
Fighting began in Ethiopia on 4 November, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched military operations in response to an attack on federal troops by armed forces loyal to the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), resulting in heavy casualties and thousands of civilians fleeing the region.
In a statement released after a virtual meeting, the executive committee of the World Council of Churches (WCC) condemned “the numerous brutally violent attacks against churches and communities especially affecting the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, on the members of any community defined by religion or ethnicity, on churches and holy places, and on civilians by armed groups” and mourned “the deaths of so many people.”
Praying for all
The WCC also expressed concern for the many people displaced by the fighting: “We pray that they may be assured of their security and religious freedom, so that they may return to their homes,” the statement reads.
“We denounce those who seek to foster tensions, division, antagonism and bloodshed among the people of Ethiopia for their own political purposes”, the WCC added, urging all stakeholders to “retreat from the precipice of a new catastrophe and to return to dialogue rather than conflict, to cooperation rather than division.”
The executive committee also conveyed the WCC’s “support and encouragement to all the churches of Ethiopia to raise their prophetic voice for inclusive dialogue, peace, justice and unity against violence and hatred.”
Recalling that the current crisis arises against the background of multiple concurrent challenges, including regional tensions associated with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, the worst locust invasion in 25 years, serious impacts on food production, and the Covid-19 pandemic, the statement stressed that “such a constellation of crises underscores the necessity of cooperation at this critical time.”
Finally, the statement reaffirmed “the WCC’s commitment to supporting dialogue and cooperation between the churches and religious communities of Ethiopia and Eritrea in the interests of developing peaceful relations in the region.”
Tensions between the Federal Government and Tigray regional State had been growing for several months and are of ethnic nature. Many observers fear that the conflict could spread, involving other regions of Ethiopia but also neighbouring Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia.
Following the decision of the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to start military operations in the Tigray region, the Catholic Bishops of Ethiopia published a statement urging parties to resolve their differences amicably, “in a spirit of respect, understanding” and warning on the risks of a civil war.
After the Angelus prayer of November 8, Pope Francis, too, urged “that the temptation of an armed conflict be rejected” and invited “everyone to prayer and to fraternal respect, to dialogue and to a peaceful resolution to the disagreements”.
The ongoing fight between Ethiopia’s Federal Government and the Tigray forces has also sparked concerns among the bishops of Association of Member Episcopal Conferences in Eastern Africa (AMECEA), who published a statement on Friday, 13 November, calling on the people of Ethiopia to have peaceful dialogue to end their disagreements.