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Ethiopia to expel seven senior UN staff for 'meddling'

September 30, 2021

UN officials have been given 72 hours to leave the country as pressure intensifies on the government over its Tigray blockade. The UN chief reacted with shock.

Rebels that are pro-TPLF (Tigray People's Liberation Front) arrive after eight hours of walking in Mekele, the capital of Tigray region
Thousands of people have lost their lives in the conflict between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's forces and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) Image: YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP

Ethiopia said Thursday it would expel seven senior United Nations officials for "meddling" in its affairs. The move comes after aid workers sounded the alarm on humanitarian access to the restive Tigray region.

In a statement on its Facebook page, the foreign ministry said it had "declared a 'persona non grata' for seven individuals who are working for various international NGOs in Ethiopia for meddling in the internal affairs of the country."

The foreign ministry said the officials must leave Ethiopia within 72 hours. They include the UN deputy humanitarian coordinator in the country, Grant Leaity, and UNICEF representative Adele Khodr.

The statement did not provide further details of their alleged interference in the country.

Tigray facing famine-like conditions

Tigray, the northern-most region of the country, has been mired in violence since November. Thousands of people have been killed in the conflict.

The UN has said Tigray remains under a deadly de-facto blockade and warned of a "looming catastrophe" as fighting between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's forces and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) has spilled to neighbouring areas.

Both sides have accused one another of hampering humanitarian convoys trying to reach Tigray.

Leaity warned this month that supplies of relief aid, cash and fuel were "running very low or are completely depleted" and food stocks had run out in late August.

Guterres 'shocked' by expulsions

A statement from UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was "shocked" by the expulsions and added, "We are now engaging with the Government of Ethiopia in the expectation that the concerned UN staff will be allowed to continue their important work."

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The UN has estimated that at least 400,000 people in Tigray are suffering from famine-like conditionsthere, and fears are growing of deaths from starvation.

mvb/aw (AFP, AP)