(Fox News) — The United Nations’ World Food Program suspended food distributions in two towns in Ethiopia after a violent protest, a spokesman said Sunday.
The aid agency was suspending food distribution in Lalibela and other towns because of the violence last week that saw mobs looting shops and destroying stores and homes, spokesman Jonathan Veitch said.
“The security situation has now calmed down to a degree, but very little,” Veitch said in a telephone interview. “Security remains an issue, so we’re being very careful not to get in the way of the local population.”
Veitch said WFP may resume its operations in the coming days if the security situation allows, though he did not know when that might happen.
The WFP began distributing food to more than 3,000 people in Lalibela and the wider town of Adwa last week and the distribution will continue in some parts of Lalibela over the next week and in certain areas of Adwa over the next two weeks, Veitch said.
Citing reliable sources, Reuters news agency reported that activists said Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent security forces to stop demonstrators from destroying churches and burning homes in Adwa, a major hub of religious tourism.
The protesters are members of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, which claims the region is being unfairly divided by a government of the Tigray ethnic group, according to state-affiliated Ethiopian News Agency.
The region has been the scene of a low-level insurgency over the past two decades, with Ogaden Liberation Front members often attacking and raiding oil wells, hotels and other private businesses.
Lalibela is the main location of the Lalibela Tabernacle, which is believed to be one of the largest churches in the world, the U.S. National Geographic Society says. The church was founded in the early 12th century.
Mobs with knives and clubs targeted stores and homes in at least three towns in central Ethiopia’s Western Ogaden region after the killing of a police officer over a water dispute, Associated Press reported.
Residents of the villages near Hawoo, Abotonyo and Lela fled the violence to towns including Adwa, Addis Ababa and Hail, due to fears of a government crackdown on their homes and businesses, residents said, according to the news agency.
“I don’t know what has happened to my people,” David, a local resident, told AP by phone. “We are having a lot of trouble in my village. People are running away. They have been throwing rocks and stones at my house.
“My children and my family have gone with my livestock to Adwa to stay with relatives,” David said.
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