Ethiopia to expel UN officials amid famine fears in Tigray

Among those ordered to leave the country are officials from the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), organizations that coordinate relief efforts and raise concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Tigray, which has been tormented by the war with the Ethiopian. government for almost a year.

In a statement Thursday, the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry accused the officials of “meddling in the country’s internal affairs” and gave them 72 hours to leave the country.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “shocked” by the decision and that the world body was working to keep staff in the country.

If the Ethiopian order goes ahead, it would mark one of the most significant expulsions of senior UN humanitarian officials from any country.

International criticism has been mounting about the deterioration of the conflict in Tigray and the government’s role in restrict access to help.
On September 17, United States President Joe Biden threatened to impose new sanctions on Ethiopian officials and other parties to the conflict, unless they stop fighting and open humanitarian access.

On Thursday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the United States condemned the evictions and would not refrain from applying sanctions against any group that obstructs relief efforts.

“It must stop,” said Psaki. “The action follows the release of reports warning that hundreds of thousands of people are starving to death in northern Ethiopia. We are deeply concerned that this action continues with a pattern by the Ethiopian government of obstructing the delivery of food, medicine and other supplies. that save lives. that more to the most needy “.

Earlier this month, UNOCHA said there was a “de facto blockade of humanitarian aid” in the war-torn Tigray region, where at least 400,000 people face famine conditions, according to the latest figures from the agency.

Since July, only 606 trucks carrying humanitarian supplies have made it into Tigray, a small fraction of what is needed to bring humanitarian assistance to 5.2 million people, according to UNOCHA.

The UN estimates that 100 trucks are needed a day to meet demand. The Ethiopian government continues to deny entry of medical supplies to the region, according to the UN.

The UN has cited “logistical and bureaucratic impediments including long delays in the dispatch of humanitarian supplies”, severe fuel shortages and allegations of harassment of drivers as reasons for restricting passage.

A long-awaited joint investigation into alleged atrocities carried out in Tigray, launched by the UN in conjunction with the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (ECHR) in March, has also been hampered by the security situation.

UN chief of human rights Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council on September 13 that deployments in eastern and central Tigray, including the holy city of Axum, where witnesses have accused Ethiopian and allied military forces in neighboring Eritrea of ​​some of the worst abuses, “could not continue.”

Bachelet said the team was frustrated “by sudden changes in the security situation and in the dynamics of the conflict.”

The joint report, which has already documented cases of alleged extrajudicial executions, torture, enforced disappearances and sexual violence, is expected to be published on November 1. Bachelet said allegations of human rights violations continue and “have continued to implicate government forces and their allies.” . “

Responding to threats of expulsion on Thursday, UN Secretary-General Guterres said he had “full confidence in UN personnel” in Ethiopia and that the UN was committed to “helping Ethiopians who depend on the humanitarian assistance “.

“We are now cooperating with the Ethiopian government in the expectation that concerned UN personnel will be allowed to continue their important work,” he said in a statement read by a spokesman.

The decision follows sharp comments earlier this week about the Ethiopian government’s role in the humanitarian crisis by UN aid chief Martin Griffiths. “This is man-made, this can be remedied by an act of government,“he said, Reuters reported.

“We need the Ethiopian government to do what it promised to do, which is to facilitate access,” he added.

The Ethiopian government has repeated claims rejected which is blocking help.

The Foreign Ministry, UNICEF and UNOCHA did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

CNN’s Caitlin Hu contributed reporting from New York.

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