By Dawit Endeshaw
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia's military has pushed local militiamen out of most of Gondar, a large city where intense fighting has raged since clashes broke out across the Amhara region last week, local residents and a militia member said on Wednesday.
The military's success in Gondar, Amahara's second-biggest city, is the first major breakthrough for federal forces, who were overrun by Fano militiamen in Gondar and some other towns in the early days of the fighting.
The unrest has quickly become Ethiopia's most serious security crisis since a two-year civil war in the Tigray region, which borders Amhara, ended last November.
In response, the government declared a state of emergency on Friday and rushed soldiers to the frontlines.
A Fano militiaman from Gondar told Reuters that the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF), backed by anti-riot police and pro-government militiamen, had pushed the Fano fighters out of the city on Tuesday.
"It was intense fighting. ENDF was using tanks. Our fighters were just using Kalashnikovs," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
A local official in Gondar said the military was "almost in full control of the city". Another Gondar resident said he had seen the military enter the city centre on Tuesday afternoon.
Amhara's regional administration posted a statement on its Facebook page late on Tuesday saying Gondar and the regional capital Bahir Dar had been "freed" from Fano, but the statement was no longer there on Wednesday.
Spokespeople for the regional administration, Ethiopia's government and the ENDF did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Sources in Bahir Dar were not immediately available for comment. A resident in the holy town of Lalibela, which Fano fighters took control of last week, said he saw militiamen leaving town on Wednesday morning amid reports that ENDF reinforcements were approaching.
Lalibela residents told Reuters on Tuesday that more than a dozen combatants had been killed in fighting over the previous days.
Fano is a part-time militia that draws volunteers from the local population. It was an ally of the ENDF during the Tigray war but the relationship later deteriorated over accusations the federal government was trying to weaken Amhara's defences against neighbouring regions - a charge the government denies.
(Writing by Aaron Ross, Editing by William Maclean)