US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Wednesday of the risks to Ethiopia's unity if no ceasefire is reached between the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and opposing forces in the Tigray and Amhara regions of the country.
The US is involved in negotiations to reach a cessation of hostilities in the conflict between the government and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which broke out last year.
“We are deeply concerned about escalating violence, the expansion of fighting throughout the country and what we see as a growing risk to the unity and to the integrity of the state,” Mr Blinken said during his first official visit to Kenya.
The conflict has killed thousands of people and left observers shocked after Mr Abiy, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, teamed up with former enemy Eritrea to wage war on the TPLF.
Mr Blinken said any ceasefire deal would have to include lifting the humanitarian blockade on Tigray and the release of detainees.
“We need to see humanitarian assistance flow freely now. We need to see people detained released and we need to see everyone engaging in an effort to resolve the differences that exist peacefully and constitutionally,” Mr Blinken said in a press conference with his Kenyan counterpart Raychelle Omamo.
Ms Omamo saw potential for a breakthrough in the ongoing negotiations, saying: “We believe in the potential of Ethiopia to find a resolution to this crisis; we believe that a ceasefire is possible.”
Kenya is one of the key interlocutors in the Ethiopian conflict. On Sunday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta made a surprise visit to Addis Ababa where he held closed-door talks with Mr Abiy and other officials.
African Union envoy Olusegun Obasanjo made two trips to Ethiopia this month and held meetings with the government and the TPLF.
US envoy to the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman has recently returned from Addis Ababa on a regional trip intended to boost Mr Obasanjo's efforts.
But despite diplomatic efforts, the situation has not improved on the ground. Mass detentions of Tigrayans by the Ethiopian government and military advances by the TPLF and Omoro forces have been reported this week.
On Tuesday, the UN said the Ethiopian government has detained more than 1,000 people, mostly ethnic Tigrayans, in a widespread crackdown on supporters of Tigray's liberation movement.
The Associated Press said one US citizen and a number of British nationals are among those who have been detained.
The US, concerned of the risk of all-out civil war, has reiterated its call for its citizens to leave Ethiopia.
“Leave now while commercial flights are still available and while it is safe to do so,” a senior US official said on a call with reporters on Tuesday.
The administration of US President Joe Biden sanctioned six Eritrean officials and entities last week for their role in the conflict.
Reports of gang rapes, the destruction of health centres, the burning of crops, extrajudicial killings and forced expulsions have heightened the risk of famine and starvation in northern Ethiopia.
Only 7 per cent of the necessary assistance is reaching the region and food aid inside Tigray has now run out, the US Agency for International Development said this month.