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Salesian missionaries reportedly arrested in Ethiopia


Minasse Wondimu Hailu | Anadolu Agency | AFP

John Burger - published on 11/12/21

Roundup of 17 priests, brothers and employees part of crackdown on Tigrayan sympathizers, government says.

Salesian missionaries in Ethiopia have been arrested by government forces, as part of a roundup of potential rebel sympathizers, according to Vatican News and other outlets.

“Government forces in Ethiopia raided a center run by the Salesians of Don Bosco in Addis Ababa and arrested 17 people, including priests, religious brothers, and employees, amid a general climate of uncertainty and tension in the country brought about by the year-long war between the government and Tigrayan forces,” Vatican News said.

The Tigray War, which began on November 3, 2020, is a conflict between local Tigray Defense Forces and the Ethiopian National Defense Force, the Ethiopian Federal Police, regional police, and gendarmerie forces of the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions with the involvement of the Eritrean Defense Forces. Tigray, the northernmost region of the Ethiopian federation, is home to an estimated 7 million people.

Roots of the conflict go back to 2019, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed merged the ethnic and region-based constituent parties of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition and several opposition parties into his new Prosperity Party. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front refused to join the new party. The TPLF alleged that Ahmed became an illegitimate ruler because the general elections scheduled for August 2020 were postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The TPLF, led by its chairman Debretsion Gebremichael, went ahead with regional elections in Tigray in September 2020 in defiance of the federal government, which then declared the Tigray election illegal.

After a long build-up of Eritrean and Amhara forces on Tigray’s borders, fighting between Tigray forces and the Ethiopia-Eritrea-Amhara alliance began on November 3, 2020.

“Abiy has unleashed innumerable atrocities that have devastated Tigray, destabilized Ethiopia, and undermined peace and security in the Horn of Africa,” claims Omna Tigray, a collective of international Tigrayan professionals advocating for an end to the war, unrestricted humanitarian aid to the Tigrayan people, and economic development of Tigray. “In Tigray, an estimated 70,000 people have been killed, more than 22,500 have endured weaponized sexual and gender-based violence, 70,000 have fled to neighboring Sudan, and more than 2.2 million are internally displaced. Humanitarian agencies estimate that more than 900,000 are in famine conditions, with nearly 2 million more on the brink of famine.”

A November 5 raid was carried out on a Salesian center in Gottera, in the Ethiopian capital. The 17 people were taken to an unknown destination. 

The Salesians have worked in Ethiopia since 1975.

“The situation is dire as the Salesians have historically had a respectable relationship with the government of Ethiopia and wonderful relationships with the people,” Jayne Feeney, an American who formerly volunteered with the Salesian missions in Dilla, Ethiopia, told Aleteia. She regards some of the priests and employees involved as “friends, mentors and family.”

“Ethiopia’s government says it is detaining people suspected of supporting the forces from the Tigray region who are approaching Addis Ababa following a year-long war with Ethiopian forces that was triggered by a political falling-out. But human rights groups, lawyers, relatives and the government-created Ethiopian Human Rights Commission say detentions — including of children and the elderly — appear to be on the basis of ethnicity,” the Associated Press explained. 

On Wednesday, the UN said that Ethiopian security forces arrested and detained some 72 aid-delivering truck drivers who were working for the World Food Program in Semera, the regional capital of Afar, and the gateway for aid convoys struggling to reach the Tigray region, Vatican News said.

Fr. Giuseppe Cavallini, a Comboni missionary who has served in Ethiopia for 30 years, told Vatican News that even churches have not been spared amid the government crackdown.

“A few days ago, the military entered the Catholic Cathedral of Addis Ababa looking for people of Tigrinya ethnicity. And these raids are being done throughout the capital,” he said.

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