UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The United Nations chief on Monday demanded an immediate end to hostilities in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region and withdrawal of Eritrean forces fighting alongside the government, saying “violence and destruction have reached alarming levels” and “civilians are paying a horrific price.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres stressed that “there is no military solution” to the nearly two-year conflict between Tigrayan forces and the federal government, warning that “the situation in Ethiopia is spiraling out of control.”

He called for an urgent resumption of talks between the two sides and said, “The United Nations is ready to support the African Union in every possible way to end this nightmare for the Ethiopian people.”

The warring parties had said they were ready to participate in AU-led talks which were due to take place in South Africa earlier this month, but they were postponed because of logistical and technical issues.

AU Commission Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed “grave concern” in a statement Sunday over the fighting and called for an “immediate, unconditional cease-fire and the resumption of humanitarian services.”

He urged the parties “to recommit to dialogue as per their agreement to direct talks to be convened in South Africa by a high-level team led by the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa and supported by the international community.”

Guterres told reporters that Ethiopia’s “social fabric is being ripped apart,” saying innocent people are being killed every day in indiscriminate attacks, including in residential areas, and hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes since hostilities resumed in August, many for the second time.

“We are also hearing disturbing accounts of sexual violence and other acts of brutality against women, children and men,” the U.N. chief said.

Months of political tensions between Ethiopia’s government and Tigray leaders who once dominated the government exploded into war in November 2020.

Following some of the fiercest fighting of the conflict, Ethiopian soldiers fled the Tigrayan capital Mekele in June 2021 and the government declared a national state of emergency with sweeping powers. A drone-assisted government military offensive halted the Tigrayans’ approach to Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, and last December the Tigrayans retreated back to Tigray.

A cease-fire that began in March and allowed much-needed aid to enter Tigray ended with a resumption of fighting in August.

Even before hostilities resumed, secretary-general Guterres said 13 million people needed food and other assistance in Tigray and the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions.

Since fighting resumed, he said, “Deliveries of aid into Tigray have been suspended for more than seven weeks, and assistance to Amhara and Afar has also been disrupted.”

Guterres urged all parties to facilitate the delivery of aid to all civilians in need.

In response to the worsening conflict, the three African members of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council — Kenya, Gabon and Ghana — have called for an emergency closed meeting on Ethiopia and briefings by the AU and the U.N. humanitarian office, diplomats said. A date has not yet been announced.

Guterres said he believes the fighting, which started out as an internal conflict, now has an international dimension with Eritrean forces inside Ethiopia and “a delicate situation on the border with Sudan, so this is something that needs to be seriously considered by all entities, including the Security Council.”