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Ethiopia: UN head decries 'hellish' humanitarian situation

August 20, 2021

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he spoke with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed about the unfolding crisis in Tigray and called for a cease-fire.

Women receiving food assistance in Tigray, Ethiopia
Many Tigrayans are in dire need of food assistanceImage: Ben Curtis/AP Photo/picture alliance

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday described the humanitarian situation in parts of Ethiopia as "hellish" and said there is no military solution to the conflict in Tigray and neighboring regions. 

What did Guterres say?

Guterres called for a cease-fire and the safe passage of humanitarian aid to devastated areas. He urged an Ethiopia-led political dialogue to find a solution to the conflict.

Tigray is Ethiopia's northernmost region, but the fighting has expanded in recent months to the neighboring states of Amhara and Afar. Guterres said this development  "has ensnared even more people in its horror."

Hundreds of thousands of people in the impacted regions are in dire need of food assistance. The conflict has also internally displaced hundreds of thousands in northern Ethiopia.

The UN chief said he had discussed the conflict on Thursday with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Guterres said "there was a commitment things would improve, but we have to see what happens in the next few days."

Why is there war in Ethiopia?

The Ethiopian government has waged a military offensive against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) militant group since November of last year. The operation was in response to the TPLF attacking Ethiopian federal military bases in Tigray, which Ahmed deemed a betrayal.

The TPLF, which is also a political party, was angered by Ahmed's decision to postpone elections amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Ethiopian government declared a unilateral cease-fire in June, but tensions have continued to escalate. Earlier this month, Ahmed urged "all capable" citizens to fight in the war, with the Oromo Liberation Army militant group then saying it has formed an alliance with the TPLF.

Both the Ethiopian government and the TPLF have been accused of war crimes by international rights monitors and the governments of western countries.

Eritrean forces have also controversially intervened in the war against the TPLF.

wd/rc (AP, dpa)