The United Nations Security Council has for the first time called for an end to hostilities in Ethiopia, urging the warring sides to negotiate a “lasting ceasefire”.
The yearlong conflict between federal government troops and Tigrayan forces has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 2.5 million people. The UN has said up to 7 million people in the regions of Tigray, Amhara and Afar need help, including 5 million in Tigray where some 400,000 people are estimated to be living in famine-like conditions.
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A meeting of the Security Council previously scheduled to take place on Friday was rescheduled for early next week, shortly before it was due to take place.
Instead, in a joint press statement, the 15 members of the UN’s most powerful body “expressed deep concern about the expansion and intensification of military clashes in northern Ethiopia”.
The Security Council further called on all parties to refrain “from inflammatory hate speech and incitement to violence and divisiveness” and urged them “to put an end to hostilities and to negotiate a lasting ceasefire”. The council members also called for unhindered access for humanitarian aid and the re-establishment of public services, among others.
UN Security Council press statement on Ethiopia ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/Pstgj2Hevc
— Amanda Price (@amandaruthprice) November 5, 2021
The members had been negotiating a statement for several days and eventually reached a compromise with Russia on the text, diplomats said.
“There had been argument, we understand, about a draft statement that had been drawn up primarily by Ireland and Kenya calling for a cessation of hostilities,” Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna, reporting from the UN headquarters, said.
“We understand that Russia, in particular, objected to some of the language in this particular statement but the president of the Security Council did emerge and read the statement”, only the second by the council in the past year. Hanna noted that Mexico’s UN Ambassador Juan Ramón de la Fuente Ramírez, council president for November, was “at pains to emphasise his view that the Security Council was not divided on this issue,” he added.
With the meeting now expected to take place on Monday, the involvement of neighbouring Kenya was absolutely critical according to a number of diplomats who spoke to Al Jazeera.
“The reason for this is that the prevailing view in the Security Council at present is that African problems require African solutions; there have got to be direct African involvement in resolving this crisis, hence a desire that the African Union takes the lead along with Ethiopia’s Africa’s neighbours,” Hanna said.
Months of political tensions between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the leaders of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), who once dominated Ethiopia’s government, exploded into war in November 2020.
Following some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict, Ethiopia soldiers fled Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, in June.
In recent weeks, the conflict has expanded beyond Tigray’s borders, into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.
The Tigrayan forces, which have struck an alliance with the Oromo Liberation Army, have said they seized key cities on a major highway leading to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, and threatened to march towards it. The Ethiopian government has accused the Tigrayan forces of exaggerating their territorial gains.
Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to verify independently.
Amid growing international alarm over the prospect of an all-out war in Africa’s second most populous country, the federal armed forces on Friday appealed to retired soldiers and veterans to rejoin the military, setting a November 24 deadline to register.
In the past week, the government has also declared a six-month state of emergency and local authorities told civilians in the capital to register their weapons and prepare to defend their neighbourhoods.
On Friday, the United States embassy in Addis Ababa advised all US citizens to leave the country “as soon as possible”, describing the security situation as “very fluid”.