The Ethiopian government Thursday ordered the expulsion of seven senior United Nations officials for “meddling” in its internal affairs amid a blockade in the northern part of Tigray region of the country.
The East African nation’s foreign affairs ministry said in a statement that the officials had 72 hours to leave country.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia, in letters issued today (30 September 2021), has declared a ”persona non grata” for seven individuals who are working for UN humanitarian agencies in Ethiopia for meddling in the internal affairs of the country,” the ministry wrote in the statement published on Facebook.
“According to the letters addressed to each of the 7 individuals listed below, all of them must leave the territory of Ethiopia within the next 72 hours,” it added.
The announcement came on the heels of the warnings from humanitarian workers that hundreds of thousands of the people Tigray may be experiencing famine due to a government blockade of aid.
The embattled Tigrayan region has been racked by conflict between its forces, the Ethiopian soldiers and allied forces since November, leaving thousands of people dead.
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There are allegations of right abuses, gang rapes, mass expulsions and the destruction of health centres against the Ethiopian forces, but the government denies this, saying humanitarian organisations were taking sides with the Tigrayan side.
The Ethiopian government recently suspended the operations of two major international aid groups, Doctors Without Borders and the Norwegian Refugee Committee. It accused them of spreading “misinformation” about the war, Washington Post reported.
Aid workers have also denied the allegations.
As part of its actions against criticism from aid workers, the government said it was expelling Adele Khodr, UNICEF Representative in Ethiopia; Sonny Onyegbula, Monitoring, Reporting and Advocacy Team Leader: United Nations Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Kwesi Sansculotte, Peace and Development Advisor, UNOCHA.
Others included Saeed Hersi, Deputy Head of Office, Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ethiopia; Grant Leaity, Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator, Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ethiopia; Ghada Mudawi, Acting Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator, Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ethiopia; and Marcy Vigoda, Head of office, Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Ethiopia.
The U.S., through the White House press secretary Jen Psaki, condemned the expulsions, saying the blockade must stop as it is “a stain on our collective conscience.”
“We call on the UN Security Council and members of the international community to take urgent action to make clear to the government of Ethiopia that impeding humanitarian operations and depriving your own citizens of the basic means of survival is unacceptable,” she said.
The UN spokesperson, Stephanie Tremblay, also told a news briefing that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said he was “shocked” by the expulsion.
“We are now engaging with the government of Ethiopia in the expectation that the concerned UN will be allowed to continue their important work,” Mr Tremblay said.