ADDIS-ABEBA, Sept. 30 (Reuters) – Ethiopia expels seven senior UN officials, the foreign ministry said on Thursday, two days after the UN aid chief warned that hundreds Thousands of people in the northern Tigris region were likely to starve due to a government blockade of aid.
The move comes amid mounting international criticism of conditions in Tigray, and as all parties to the fighting in northern Ethiopia face the possibility of sanctions from the United States government.
Many countries fear the spreading conflict in Ethiopia – Africa’s second most populous nation and a heavyweight in regional diplomacy – will further destabilize an already fragile region.
The seven expelled include the country heads of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The seven have 72 hours to leave, the ministry said in a statement, accusing them of “interfering” in internal affairs.
A statement by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “shocked” by the evictions and added: “We are now engaging with the Ethiopian government in the hope that relevant UN personnel will be allowed to continue his important work ”. Read more
The Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
A conflict erupted between federal forces and those aligned with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray (TPLF), the political party that controls the region, in November.
Tigrayan forces recaptured most of the region in late June, then pushed into neighboring Afar and Amhara regions, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee their homes.
On Tuesday, UN Aid Chief Martin Griffiths – the head of OCHA – said a nearly three-month “de facto blockade” of Tigray’s borders limited aid deliveries to 10% of what is needed.
“It’s man-made, it can be corrected by government action,” Griffiths said, noting that nearly a quarter of Tigray’s children are malnourished.
Five of the seven evicted work for OCHA; a sixth works for UNICEF and the seventh works for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which is conducting a joint investigation with the human rights commission appointed by the Ethiopian state into reports of massacres civilians, gang rapes and other abuses in Tigray.
The Ethiopian authorities have previously accused aid workers of favoring and even arming the Tigrayan forces, although they have provided no evidence to substantiate their charges.
In August, Ethiopia suspended the operations of the Dutch branch of the medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and the Norwegian Refugee Council, accusing them of arming “rebel groups”. Read more
So far, 23 aid workers have been killed in Tigray.
Reporting by Dawit Endeshaw and Ayenat Mersie; Additional reporting by Giulia Paravicini Editing by Katharine Houreld, Alison Williams, Emelia Sithole-Matarise, William Maclean
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