The UN Security Council called for an end to the intensifying and expanding conflict in Ethiopia on Friday, and for unhindered access for humanitarian aid to tackle the world's worst hunger crisis in a decade in the war-torn Tigray region.
The UN's most powerful body expressed serious concern about the impact of the conflict on "the stability of the country and the wider region", and called on all parties to refrain "from inflammatory hate speech and incitement to violence and divisiveness".
The press statement was approved by the 15 council members the day after the first anniversary of the war in the northern Tigray region that has killed thousands of people and displaced millions. It was only the council's second statement on the conflict and the first to address the worsening conflict.
"Today the Security Council breaks six months of silence and speaks again with one united voice on the deeply concerning situation in Ethiopia," said Ireland's UN Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason. "For the first time, the Council clearly calls for a cessation of hostilities. We believe this should happen immediately, and that all civilians must be protected."
The statement was drafted by Ireland, Kenya, Niger, Tunisia and St Vincent and The Grenadines. Those countries and the United States had called for an open Security Council meeting on Ethiopia on Friday afternoon, but it was postponed until early next week, probably Monday. Diplomats said African Union representatives were not available to participate, so the meeting was delayed.
The council called on the parties "to put an end to hostilities and to negotiate a lasting cease-fire, and for the creation of conditions for the start of an inclusive Ethiopian national dialogue to resolve the crisis and create the foundation for peace and stability throughout the country".
Council members said the language in the statement was watered down after objections from Russia to the original statement, which "called on all parties to immediately end hostilities without preconditions".
But the statement, read by Mexico's UN Ambassador Juan Ramon De La Fuente Ramirez, the current council president, did call for an end to hostilities -- though without the word immediately. It did single out "the expansion and intensification of military clashes in northern Ethiopia."
In recent weeks, the conflict has expanded, with Tigray forces seizing key cities on a major highway leading to Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, and linking up with another armed group, the Oromo Liberation Army, with which it struck an alliance in August.
Months of political tensions between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government and the Tigray leaders who once dominated Ethiopia's government exploded into war last November. Following some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict, Ethiopian soldiers fled the Tigray capital, Mekele, in June. Facing the current Tigray offensive, prime minister Abiy declared a national state of emergency with sweeping detention powers on Tuesday.
The Tigray forces say they are pressuring Ethiopia's government to lift a deadly months-long blockade on their region of around six million (60 lakh) people, where basic services have been cut off and humanitarian food and medical aid are denied.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said last month that at least 5.2 million (52 lakh) people in the region need humanitarian assistance, including at least 400,000 "living in famine-like conditions". Child malnutrition levels are now at the same level as they were at the start of the 2011 famine in Somalia, he warned.
The press statement reiterated the Security Council's support for the African Union's role in resolving the conflict and gave strong support to the "strategy and efforts to achieve a cease-fire, and a prompt and peaceful resolution of the conflict" being undertaken by the AU's high representative for the Horn of Africa region, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.
The Security Council statement did not mention the announcement earlier on Friday that the Tigray forces, which in August linked up with the Oromo Liberation Army, have joined with seven other armed and opposition groups in an alliance against prime minister Abiy Ahmed to seek a political transition. The alliance left open the possibility of his ouster by force.
Amid fears that the violence could lead to a division of Ethiopia similar to the break-up of former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, council members "reaffirmed their strong commitment to the sovereignty, political independence, territorial integrity and unity of Ethiopia". (AP) RC 11060342