U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed hope Wednesday there could be an opening to resolve the more than year-long conflict in northern Ethiopia, which has left millions on the brink of starvation.
In a statement, Guterres said he spoke Wednesday with former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who is the African Union's chief envoy to the Horn of Africa. The AU is leading mediation efforts in the Ethiopian conflict and Obasanjo has been shuttling between the parties since he took up his post in August, trying to build support for a cease-fire and talks.
"Mr. Obasanjo briefed me about the efforts being made by the government of Ethiopia and the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF) to move towards a resolution of the violent conflict and expressed optimism that there is now a real opportunity for political and diplomatic resolution of the conflict," the statement said.
On December 24, the Ethiopian federal government announced that its defense forces would pause at their current positions, while the Tigrayan forces said they had withdrawn from the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar and were returning to Tigray.
The U.N. chief said Obasanjo briefed him on his latest visit to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and to Mekelle, the capital of the Tigray region.
"I am delighted that after over a year of armed conflict which has affected millions of people across Ethiopia and the rest of the region, there is now a demonstrable effort to make peace," Guterres said.
The U.N. has been warning for months that the intensifying conflict risks descending into a full-blown civil war and threatens the stability of the entire Horn of Africa.
Guterres said ongoing military operations in some parts of the country continue to present a challenge to the peace process.
"Let me reiterate my call on all parties to move rapidly towards cessation of hostilities as a critical step in the right direction for peace-making," he said, offering the United Nations' support for inclusive and Ethiopian-led talks.
He also urged the international community to support peace efforts.
The United States' new Horn of Africa envoy, David Satterfield, is making his first visit to Ethiopia this week. The State Department said he and Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Molly Phee will "encourage government officials to seize the current opening for peace by ending the air strikes and other hostilities, negotiating a ceasefire, releasing all political prisoners, restoring sustained humanitarian access, and laying the foundation for an inclusive national dialogue."
Guterres said he remains concerned about the humanitarian situation in parts of Ethiopia affected by the war and called on the parties to allow aid access. The U.N. says that about 9.4 million people in the three northern regions affected by the conflict are in need of aid.
The U.N. said last week that there have been no humanitarian deliveries into Tigray since December 14. Fuel, which is vital to putting aid convoys on the road, has been in critically short supply. No fuel has been delivered to Tigray since August 2.
Some U.N. partners say they will soon have to suspend their work if no fuel is allowed in. Fighting and intensified airstrikes are also hampering relief efforts and causing civilian casualties.
The Ethiopian federal government has been engaged in an armed conflict with TPLF forces in the northern Tigray region since November 2020.