NAIROBI, Kenya — Ethiopian government forces raided a center run by the Salesians of Don Bosco in Addis Ababa Nov. 5 and arrested 17 people, including priests, religious brothers and employees. Most were from the Ethiopian region of Tigray and were taken to an unidentified destination.
“All of them are still in prison. They are still being kept in an unknown prison. The provincial superior is among them,” said a source who could not be named for safety reasons. “We continue to pray for peace. The situation is very delicate.”
One Twitter post said the priests and others were accused of sending money to Tigray. Relief aid to the region has been blocked, and people are said to be starving.
The Salesians, who began working in Ethiopia in 1975, have an established presence in Tigray. The order’s website says 100 members of the order live in about 14 houses spread across Ethiopia, where they run schools and vocational training centers and homes for street children.
One year into the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Father Joseph Mussie Zerai is urging the international community to accelerate efforts to stop any risk of ethnic cleansing, avoid balkanization of Ethiopia and stop a food catastrophe underway.
“The international community should be ashamed of the protracted war,” Father Zerai told Catholic News Service. “Everything that we find written in the international treaties and conventions on the prevention and protection of civilians in the event of a conflict” has been disregarded.
He spoke as fears of all-out war in the country grew, amid reports that the Tigray Defense Force was on the outskirts of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.
The conflict, which began in Tigray Nov. 4, 2020, has killed thousands and displaced more than 1 million people, as it destroyed villages and towns. It has turned women and children into targets of violence by armed men as it spread to other regions.
The conflict began when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, launched an attack on the administration of the semi-autonomous region. He accused the regional administration of attacking a national army base in the Tigray capital, Mekele.
On Nov. 3, the prime minister declared a state of emergency and urged residents to arm themselves to protect their neighborhoods as the rebels advanced on the capital. He said the rebel advance was pushing the country to demise, in a statement that was later pulled down by Facebook over allegations he was inciting violence.
At the same time, a joint report of the U.N. and Ethiopian human rights commissions said both sides had committed abuses that amounted to war crimes.