UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has expressed “deep concern” over the unfolding conflict in the breakaway Tigray region of Ethiopia.
Guterres’ latest comments on the conflict came in a statement by his spokesman, Mr Stephane Dujarric, on Wednesday.
The UN chief specifically mentioned an impending military offensive by the Ethiopian central government into the Tigray capital, Mekelle.
He told all sides ‘to do everything possible to protect civilians, uphold human rights and ensure humanitarian access for the provision of much-needed assistance.’
Guterres also stressed the need for free and safe movement of people searching for safety and assistance, “regardless of their ethnic identity across both national and international borders.
‘The secretary-general reiterates the full support of the United Nations to the initiative of the Chairperson of the African Union, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, to facilitate peaceful solutions.
‘He urges all parties to seize this opportunity to de-escalate tensions,’ the statement said.
According to reports, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Nov. 22, gave the region’s fighters until Nov. 25 to surrender or risk an offensive.
Following the announcement, the army reportedly warned residents of the region’s capital that soldiers would ‘encircle’ the city and attack it.
But the region’s leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, has rejected the ultimatum and vowed to fight on.
Hundreds of people have reportedly been killed and tens of thousands have fled in nearly three weeks of fighting in Tigray, according to the BBC.
The conflict emanated from ‘long-standing tension’ between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the regional powerful party.
The latest fighting started after Prime Minister Ahmed in March postponed parliamentary elections scheduled for August, due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As a result, the TPLF now considers the central government as illegitimate and that Abiy no longer has authority to remain as prime minister.
The regional party went ahead to conduct its own election, which the government dismissed as illegal.