NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopia said 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 government over its deadly blockade of its Tigray region.
The expulsions are the most dramatic move yet by Ethiopia’s government to restrict humanitarian access to the region of 6 million people after nearly a year of war. The U.N. has been increasingly outspoken as the flow of medical supplies, food and fuel has been brought to a near-halt for weeks.
A foreign ministry statement said the officials must leave Ethiopia within 72 hours. They include five people with the U.N. humanitarian agency, one with the U.N. human rights office and the UNICEF representative in the country. The statement did not give details of their alleged interference.
A spokesman for the U.N. humanitarian agency did not immediately comment. Foreign ministry spokesman Dina Mufti did not immediately respond to a request for details.
The U.N. 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 the Tigray region under what the U.N. has called a de facto government blockade.
It was one of the most sharply worded criticisms yet of the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade after nearly a year of war in the country. Memories of the 1980s famine in Ethiopia, which killed some 1 million people and whose images shocked the world, are vivid in his mind, “and we fervently hope is not happening at present,” Griffiths said.
The AP last week, citing witness accounts and internal documents, reported the first starvation deaths since Ethiopia’s government imposed the blockade in June in an attempt to keep support from reaching Tigray forces, who have been fighting its soldiers and allied forces since November. Thousands of people have died in the conflict.
Ethiopia’s government has accused humanitarian workers of supporting the Tigray forces, which aid workers have denied. Earlier, it suspended the operations of two major international aid groups — Doctors Without Borders and the Norwegian Refugee Committee — accusing them of spreading “misinformation” about the war.
The U.N. officials declared persona non grata by Ethiopia’s government include U.N. deputy humanitarian coordinator in the country Grant Leaity and UNICEF representative Adele Khodr.