Ethiopia expels top UN officials amid Tigray aid crisis

Ethiopia expels top UN officials amid Tigray aid crisis

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Image source, AFP
Image caption, Millions of people have been displaced by the fighting

Ethiopia says it is expelling seven senior United Nations officials for “meddling” in its internal affairs.

The tweet from the foreign affairs ministry said the officials had 72 hours to leave the country.

The UN has raised concerns in recent weeks about a de-facto three month blockade of aid deliveries to the war-torn region of Tigray.

UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said earlier this week he assumed the region was now suffering from famine.

And he urged the government to “get those trucks moving”, telling news agency Reuters: “This is man-made, this can be remedied by the act of government.”

Ethiopia’s UN mission in New York had responded by saying “any claim on the existence of blockade is baseless”.

Ethiopia has not specified the allegations against the expelled officials; five of whom are from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), one is from the UN Children’s Fund (Unicef) and one is from the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The expulsions are significant and include the heads of UNOCHA and Unicef, the BBC’s Africa correspondent Catherine Byaruhanga reports.

She says they point to how bad relations likely are between the government and humanitarian organisations. Both sides acknowledge there is a crisis in Tigray but appear no closer to working together to solve it.

Image source, WFP
Image caption, The UN has said Tigray is getting just 10% of the aid it needs

The UN said earlier this month that of 466 trucks that entered Tigray between mid-July and mid-September, only 38 had made the return journey.

Both the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which controls the northern region, blame the other for this.

The TPLF say truck drivers are provided with only enough fuel for a one-way journey into Tigray and complain of violence and intimidation at checkpoints manned by the Ethiopian federal forces.

The Ethiopian government has rejected the suggestion that a shortage of fuel is stopping the trucks. It has also accused aid organisations of supporting the TPLF.

Mr Griffiths told Reuters that a UN assessment in June had predicted there were 400,000 people in famine-like conditions “and the supposition was that if no aid got to them adequately they would slip into famine.”

“I have to assume that something like that is happening,” he said.

Thousands of people have been killed and more than two million have fled their homes since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered a military offensive against regional forces in Tigray in November 2020.

He said he did so in response to an attack on a military base housing government troops there.

The escalation came after months of feuding between Mr Abiy’s government and the TPLF over the reforms he was pursuing.

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