GLASGOW - UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called Tuesday for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Ethiopia, after the government there declared a state of emergency amid fears that Tigrayan rebels were heading for the capital.

Guterres called “for an immediate cessation of hostilities, unrestricted humanitarian access to deliver urgent life-saving assistance, and an inclusive national dialogue to resolve this crisis and create the foundation for peace and stability throughout the country,” his spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said. “The stability of Ethiopia and the wider region is at stake,” the statement said, adding that Guterres was “extremely concerned” by the escalation in violence and the declaration of a state of emergency.

The Ethiopian government imposed the emergency and called on residents of Addis Ababa to prepare to defend their homes after several days of reported advances by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group.

The TPLF is locked in a brutal year-long war against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government. In recent days it has claimed control of two key cities in the Amhara region bordering Tigray, about 400 kilometres (250 miles) north of Addis Ababa.

The group’s leaders have not ruled out marching on the capital, which has so far not seen any fighting. 

The government has denied claims of TPLF territorial gains which, if confirmed, would represent a major strategic advance. Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to verify independently.