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Ethiopian Army Destroys World Heritage

Visafric (Toronto), 18 May 2001

Asmara—The Ethiopian army has destroyed Ertitrea’s oldest standing structure dating back to the third century A.D.

The wanton destruction of the stelae, considered to be one of the oldest in the region, has shocked area people and archaeologists.

Ethiopian soldiers used tanks to run over the stelae, breaking it into pieces, an eyewitness told a Visafric reporter who was one of the first people to visit the site at Belew Kelew near Senafe just 25 km from the Ethiopian border.

The destruction was only discovered recently as fear of landmines had kept people away. The area is one of the last places from which the occupying Ethiopian army withdrew after the signing of the peace agreement between the two countries in Algiers last year.

This is crime against culture, said Dr. Naizghi Ghebremedhin, Head of Cultural Heritage Preservation office. Mr. Gebremedhin was at a loss for words and could not hide his anger at the destruction of one of the country’s oldest heritage.

Eritrea’s Minster of Tourism, Ahmed Haj Ali, was equally enraged at what he said was the wanton destruction of a world heritage by an ill disciplined army.

This heritage does not belong to Eritrea alone but the whole world. This is one of the links to our past, Mr. Ali said. The world should take action. Especially the UN and UNESCO should take proper action against Ethiopia for the distraction.

An elderly man who used to guard the historic area said he never thought that the Ethiopians would destroy such a heritage. War is war, but destroying such a monument is Unacceptable. This heritage in Belew-Kelew is the mother of civilization and the cradle of Axumite kingdom.

National Museum of Eritrea staff, Rezene Russom, described the destruction as barbaric adding that the destruction shows Ethiopia’s border war included plans to destroy Eritrea’s cultural heritage.

The Belew-Kelew area holds many of Eritrea’s historical legacies with several ancient sites still to be excavated.