The UN on Tuesday said the situation in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray was “unclear” after rebels claimed to have pushed back government forces from the regional capital Mekelle in a stark reversal after eight months of fighting.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric described a “fluid” and confusing situation in Tigray, due in part to a breakdown in telephone and internet connections, raising questions about aid worker access to the war-ravaged region.
Tigrayan forces said they had Ethiopian government troops on the run after regaining control of Mekelle. The Ethiopian government unilaterally declared a ceasefire on Monday but has not commented on the rebel advance.
“The consequences and impact of the immediate ceasefire remain unclear,” Mr Dujarric told reporters in New York.
UN humanitarians are reassessing the situation on the ground following the reported advance by Tigrayan rebels and waiting to see whether it will now be easier to bring aid into the turbulent region.
“We’re ready to resume full operations pending security and access assessment,” said Mr Dujarric. “We along with our partners are looking at options to scale up the humanitarian relief operations in light of what we find following the assessment.”
The conflict in Tigray has been deeply challenging for aid workers who have pleaded for access to the region since fighting began.
In November, Ethiopian forces, backed by neighbouring Eritrea and allied militias, entered the region in pursuit of members of the Tigray People's Liberation Front.
Ethiopia claimed aid was being delivered to most of Tigray’s six million people during the conflict, but humanitarians have said soldiers have repeatedly denied them access to several parts of the region.
The fighting has been punctuated by reports of brutal gang-rapes and mass killings of civilians. At least a dozen aid workers have been killed, including three humanitarians with the medical charity Doctors Without Borders.
The UN agency for children on Monday accused Ethiopian government forces of dismantling satellite equipment at its Tigray office as well as violating international humanitarian law and the immunity of the world body.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he hoped a political solution would be possible. Diplomats said the UN Security Council would address the Tigray crisis this week, though it was unclear if this would be a public meeting.
The US and the UN have called for an immediate ceasefire in Tigray, where thousands of civilians have been killed, millions have been displaced and 350,000 are now facing one of the world’s worst famines in years.