Kombolcha — On Sunday, Ethiopians marked “Enkutatash,” the new year holiday. However, renewed fighting in the country’s two-year long civil war meant a curfew was in place in some areas close to the conflict, putting a damper on celebrations.
“Enkutatash,” which roughly translates to “gift of jewels,” marks the end of the rainy season and the first month of Ethiopia’s calendar. It is 2015 in Ethiopia and people celebrated their new year — a time of new beginnings, for many.
Not least in Kombolcha, about 120 kilometers from where fighting in Ethiopia’s civil war erupted again just three weeks ago, after a five-month cease-fire. Most people VOA spoke to said they hope peace will return to the country soon. Yet they still fear fighting could resume in the town.
Due to the nearby clashes, a curfew has been imposed, which cut short the celebrations. Elyas Abate is a local resident at St. George Church in Dessie.
He says the church services that usually take place at night can’t happen like they usually do. People have to follow the law, so the services end early and the worshippers have to go back home early to meet the curfew.
A couple of hours before the curfew comes into effect, the streets are still busy. Afterward, empty. Police stop those who fail to observe the new rules. Kedir Seifu is a butcher at a shop and runs a food outlet attached to a local bar.
“Because of the curfew, everyone goes home early, around 7 p.m. By 8 p.m., people’s movements have stopped. Our business has declined as we are not serving dinner, it’s really not going as well as before,” he says.
Kombolcha was overrun by Tigrayan forces last year, before they were driven back by the government and its allies, including Amhara militia and Amhara regional forces.
When fighting erupted nearby in recent weeks, there was a run on the banks, as people tried to flee the town, one local resident, Dessiye Asres, says.
There were long lines of people waiting to pull their money out of the Commercial Bank Asres noted and that most of them were from the occupied and nearby towns further north, adding that they pulled out their money for food, accommodation and for transport, either to stay here or go south to the next town.
In a statement on Ethiopia’s New Year’s Day, the Tigray External Affairs Office said on Sunday that it had appointed a team to negotiate peace and said it would agree to mediation by the African Union, which had been a major sticking point between the two sides in the conflict. However, on Tuesday, there were reports of government airstrikes hitting a business campus in the Tigray region’s capital, Mekelle.
Before the airstrikes, VOA asked a monk and religious leader, Melake Selam Komos or Aba Samuel, what aspirations the community had for the new year. He responded they still hold out hope for a return to peace.
He says religious leaders hope to fill the people with brighter hope and preach the words of God. He admits there are still problems in Komboulcha, but in the new year, God will make everything better. “Only God can help us,” he adds.
Ethiopia’s civil war has been going on for nearly two years. Belgium’s Ghent University estimates up to half a million have already died due to fighting, starvation and lack of medical attention.