Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reiterated his ultimatum to forces in Tigray to surrender or be attacked by a tank battalion that is in position outside of the regional capital Mekele, as international groups have continued to call for a protecting civilians.
The 72-hour ultimatum ends on Wednesday, has not deterred the Tigrayan forces, who have claimed they destroyed an army division. Meanwhile, Addis Ababa says that the regional fighters, who they deem are criminals on the run, are ready to surrender.
There is a still a near-total information blackout in the heavily-armed northern Tigray region, where a war began three weeks ago.
Reports coming out of the country cannot always be verified. According to a statement by the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission on Tuesday, a group of Tigrayan youths allegedly stabbed, strangled and bludgeoned to death 600 people of non-Tigrayan origin on 9 November in Mai Kadra town.
Tigrayan forces have previously denied any responsibility for the massacre.
The former ruling party, TPLF, refused to join Abiy's coalition, holding regional elections two months ago that sparked even higher tensions, eventually leading to Abiy sending the national army to reportedly attack the region.
Civilians in the middle
As the standoff continues, others point to the plight of civilians who are in the middle, as hundred have already died. Some two million people live in Tigray, and the region already hosts some 96,0000 refugees and 100,000 internationally displaced, according to UN figures.
Neighbouring Sudan has taken in more than 30,000 people and the UN expects a further 170,000 to flee by January.
While aid groups are poised to try and help those still in the region, a total transport shutdown due to blocked roads has cut off vital humanitarian aid, and the Ethiopian federal governmental has imposed a de facto economic blockade, according to the UN. Assistance cannot get through.
"The highly aggressive rhetoric on both sides regarding the fight for Mekelle is dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger," said UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet.
She added that the federal government making claims that Tigray leaders were hiding among civilians does not give Addis the right to use artillery in heavily populated areas.
I've come to accept that peace & justice may never prevail in #Ethiopia, at least in my lifetime. Living/reliving this trauma has left me utterly hopeless. Haven't slept properly in 3 weeks. I'm sick, tired, angry. How're you keeping up? How're you dealing wt this? #Tigray #Konso
- Berhan Taye (@btayeg) November 23, 2020
Aid organizations, such as Refugees International, is seeking to restore access to the Tigray region so that aid can get through. In its latest report on the crisis, the independent humanitarian group is calling for the UN to appoint a deputy humanitarian coordinator in order to organize a major humanitarian aid operation.
The RI report says earmarked aid in assisting Sudan to care for the refugees who are coming in is vital, in addition to calling for Sudan to make land available to new camps and settlements.
Any talk of mediation by international actors has been spurned by both sides.
The UN Security Council is slated to take up the matter informally on Tuesday afternoon in a meeting. However, previous efforts by the European Union and African Union have fallen flat with Ethiopia's central government.
Current AU chair, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, pushed for sending three high-level envoys to Ethiopia, but Addis made it clear that they would only be able to meet with Abiy.
"All possible scenarios will be on the table to talk, except bringing the gang to the table as a legitimate entity," said senior Ethiopian official Redwan Hussein on Monday.
The US top diplomat for Africa, Tibor Nagy, said that the TPLF was to blame in its efforts try and depose Abiy, a stance extremely varied from other actors calling for de-escalation and calm.