UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on Thursday for Ethiopia’s warring factions to lay down their guns, begin peace talks and let aid reach those in need as the country spirals towards full-blown civil war.
The UN chief warned of “hellish” conditions and “unspeakable violence” suffered by women and other vulnerable groups during a conflict that has displaced millions since it erupted in November.
Fighting began after a fallout between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and leaders of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) — a powerful player in Ethiopian politics for about three decades — but the conflict has spread to other regions and threatens to snowball.
“The spread of the conflict has ensnared even more people in its horror,” Mr Guterres told reporters in New York.
“It is time for all parties to recognise that there is no military solution and it is vital to preserve the unity and stability of Ethiopia which is critical to the region and beyond.”
He called for all combatants to “immediately cease hostilities” and for the “start of an Ethiopian-led political dialogue to find a solution” that addresses the “underlying causes of the conflict”.
Mr Guterres also called for “unrestricted humanitarian access” to those in need.
Aid workers have complained that armed groups have blocked transit routes as millions suffer famine-like conditions.
The UN chief's comments come amid fears of Ethiopia’s descent into all-out civil war.
Ethiopia’s government, on the back foot, last week called on all able citizens to stop the Tigray forces “once and for all”.
The rebels have announced plans for a tie-up with another dissident Ethiopian faction, the Oromo Liberation Army.
Mr Abiy in November sent troops into Tigray to topple the TPLF, accusing the group of staging attacks on army camps.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner declared victory within weeks after government forces took the Tigrayan capital Mekelle, but TPLF leaders remained on the run and fighting continued.
In a game-changing reversal of the conflict in late June, pro-TPLF forces re-entered Mekelle and Mr Abiy declared a unilateral ceasefire, with the army mostly pulling out of Tigray.
The war has in recent weeks spread into the Amhara and Afar regions and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
The UN is investigating a potential atrocity, in which some 200 displaced civilians were reportedly killed by shelling at shelters in Galikoma Kebele, in Afar.
Mr Abiy met in Ankara on Wednesday with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said he backed a peaceful resolution to the Tigray conflict and offered to assist Addis Ababa in peace talks.