Ethiopia kicks out 7 UN officials amid pressure on blockade

Ethiopia kicks out seven UN officials amid pressure on blockade
2 min read
30 September, 2021
Ethiopia is kicking seven UN officials out of the country amid growing international pressure on the government over its deadly blockade of the Tigray region.
Ethiopia’s government has accused humanitarian workers of supporting the Tigray forces [source: Getty]

Ethiopia said on Thursday it is kicking out seven United Nations officials whom it accused of “meddling" in the country's internal affairs, as pressure grows on the Ethiopian government over its deadly blockade of the Tigray region.

The expulsions are the government's most dramatic move yet to restrict humanitarian access to the region of 6 million people after nearly a year of war.

The UN has become increasingly outspoken as the flow of medical supplies, food and fuel has been brought to a near-halt.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “shocked” by the announcement and expressed “full confidence” in UN staff, saying they are guided by impartiality and neutrality.

In a statement, Guterres said the UN is engaging with Ethiopia's government “in the expectation that the concerned UN staff will be allowed to continue their important work.”

Ethiopia’s government has accused humanitarian workers of supporting the Tigray forces who have been fighting its soldiers and allied forces since November.

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Aid workers have denied it. Thousands of people have died in the conflict marked by gang rapes, mass expulsions and the destruction of health centers, with witnesses often blaming Ethiopian soldiers and those of neighboring Eritrea.

The UN's humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, this week told The Associated Press that the crisis in Ethiopia is a “stain on our conscience” as children and others starve to death in Tigray under what the UN calls a de facto government blockade.

Just 10 percent of needed humanitarian supplies have been reaching Tigray in recent weeks, he said.

The remarks represented one of the most sharply worded criticisms so far of the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade.

Memories of the 1980s famine in Ethiopia, which killed around 1 million people and produced images that shocked the world, are vivid in his mind, Griffiths said, “and we fervently hope (this) is not happening at present.”

The AP, citing witness accounts and internal documents, last week reported the first starvation deaths since Ethiopia’s government imposed the blockade in June in an attempt to keep support from reaching Tigray forces.

A statement from Ethiopia's foreign ministry said the seven UN officials must leave the country within 72 hours.

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Dina Mufti didn't immediately respond to a request for details of their alleged interference.

The people expelled include five with the UN humanitarian agency, including deputy coordinator Grant Leaity, one from the UN human rights office and the one UNICEF representative in the country, Adele Khodr.

A spokesperson for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and some of the individuals expelled didn't immediately comment.