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Amhara militia take up arms against Tigray rebels

New volunteers receive basic training to become potential reinforcements for pro-government militias or military forces, in a school courtyard in Gondar, in the Amhara region   -  
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Volunteer fighters in Ethiopia are responding to a call by regional authorities in the Amhara region to take up arms against the forces of neighboring Tigray.

Ethiopia's federal government has been urging regional administrations to prepare to defend themselves as the Tigray conflict spreads.

In the city of Gondar in Amhara, a school - closed for the holidays - served as a training centre for hundreds of new volunteers.

Their training started at 6am, with recruits jogging around the city and doing aerobics.

The recruits learnt the art of camouflage and basic infantry skills including weapons training.

Instruction complete, they will go out of the city to a live firing range.

The basic training lasts about two weeks.

Upon graduation a select few will join the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, confronting the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) which the federal government terms a terrorist organization.

The majority of the militia will remain in reserve in their towns and villages.

Both men and women are encouraged to join.

Mekdess Muluneh Asayehegn, who's 26, is the mother of two young boys.

She says that she joined the militia because she believes it is the only way to safeguard her family.

Her husband is also a member of an armed Amhara militia called FANO, which humanitarian groups have accused of being behind massacres of Tigrayans.

When she finishes her militia training, Asayehegn goes home to her children - Akelock who's 4, and Barekot who's 11 months and still breast feeding.

Dessie Yismaw was a former police officer who is currently a militia deployment expert. He is among those training the new recruits.

He said he has helped train thousands of men and women to fight against the forces allied to the TPLF.

Like much about the war, it is not clear how many people in Amhara have been killed, and claims by the warring sides cannot immediately be verified.

Each has accused the other of lying or carrying out atrocities.

The Tigrayan forces say their offensive is an attempt to break the federal government's blockade of their region, which has a population of around six million.

Some 400,000 people living there face famine conditions, in what's been described as the world's worst hunger crisis in a decade.

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