The UN Security Council expressed alarm on Friday about the worsening civil war in Ethiopia after nine opposition groups announced an alliance and plans to bring down the government in Addis Ababa.
In a rare show of unity, the UN council expressed “deep concern about the expansion and intensification of military clashes in northern Ethiopia” and called for “national dialogue” to pull Ethiopia back from the brink of all-out conflict.
Members further called for a ceasefire, peace talks, an end to the use of “inflammatory hate speech” and for more aid to reach the millions of Ethiopians enduring widespread food shortages.
The 15-nation body released its first statement on Ethiopia hours after a newly formed alliance of Ethiopian opposition factions announced plans in Washington to bring down Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and form a transitional government.
The so-called United Front of Ethiopian Federalist and Confederalist Forces expands an existing agreement between the northern Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which has fought federal troops for a year, and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA).
Mahamud Ugas Muhumed, of the Somali State Resistance, and other members of the new alliance, described plans for a central command to co-ordinate military and political efforts between the nine groups, all of which have armed wings.
“The next step will be to organise ourselves and totally dismantle the existing government, either by force or by negotiation … then insert a transitional government,” Mr Muhumed said at the event in Washington.
The TPLF and the OLA say they have taken the towns of Kemise in Amhara state and say they could advance the further 325 kilometres to the capital.
The Ethiopian government has dismissed the alliance as a stunt and accused some members of past abuses. Still, Ethiopia’s army on Friday called on former personnel to re-enlist and fight, state media said.
Thousands have died, millions more have fled and a famine has been declared in the region as humanitarian agencies struggle to gain access.
The TPLF and the OLA, which Addis Ababa officially designated as terrorist groups in May, are well known, but the alliance's other seven members are obscure, said one diplomat following security matters.
“If they are really serious about taking up arms against the government, then it's potentially a real problem for the government,” the diplomat told AFP.
But, the diplomat said, “I don't know the majority of them, I don't know how many people they have, what resources they have.”
Mr Abiy's government has dismissed rebel claims of territorial gains, saying on Thursday that the TPLF was encircled and close to defeat.
The TPLF had said on Tuesday that its forces were closing in on the town of Mille, which would enable them to cut off the motorway linking neighbouring Djibouti to Addis Ababa.
On Friday, government spokesman Legesse Tulu rejected the claim, saying fighting was 80 kilometres from Mille.
He also said there was fighting at least 100km north of Shewa Robit, a town in the Amhara region that is on the A2 motorway, another road to Addis Ababa. That would put fighting about 57km south of Kombulcha, one of two towns that the TPLF said it captured last weekend.
“The conflict in Ethiopia must come to an end,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Thursday.
Agencies contributed to this report