Ethiopia expels UN staff over 'meddling'

Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Photo credit: File | AFP

Ethiopia on Thursday expelled seven UN aid workers, accusing them of interfering with the country’s domestic affairs.

A notice publicised by Dina Mufti, the Spokesman for Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, indicated that the seven officials will have to leave the country by Sunday or within 72 hours of being notified.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has declared ‘persona non-grata’ for seven individuals who have been working for some international NGOs in Ethiopia for meddling in the internal affairs of the country,” the note said.

“They must leave the country within the next 72 hours," it added.

The note did not elaborate on the exact nature of the meddling, but listed Mr Adele Khodr, the UNCEF country Representative for Ethiopia, Mr Sonny Onyegbule Monitoring, Reporting and Advocacy Team Leader for the UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights and Mr Kwesi Sansculotte, the Peace and Development Advisor for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA). 

Others declared persona non grata are Mr Saeed Mohamoud Hersi, who has been serving  as Deputy Head of Ethiopia Office for UNOCHA, Grant Leaity (Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for UNOCHA in Ethiopia), Ghada Eltahir Mudawi (Acting Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for UNOCHA) and Marcy Vigoda (Coordinator for Humanitarian Affairs).

Once declared persona non-grata, this means the persons must leave the country or be stripped of diplomatic immunity and protection. 

UN shock

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres has expressed shock over Ethiopia's decision.

"All UN humanitarian operations are guided by the core principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence. In Ethiopia, the UN is delivering lifesaving aid - including food, medicine, water, and sanitation supplies - to people in desperate need," Mr Guterres said in a statement issued Thursday evening.

"I have full confidence in the UN staff who are in Ethiopia doing this work," he added. 

The UN chief said the agency is engaging with the Ethiopia government to see if the expelled staff will be allowed back in the country.

The UN has been vocal in demanding for safe and secure humanitarian corridors in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where government forces have been battling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters since November last year.

Last week, the US government gave Ethiopia, TPLF and other warring parties including Eritrea two weeks to lay down the arms and choose dialogue or else have their masterminds receive targeted sanctions. 

Ethiopia responded by accusing the US of imposing undue pressure on the country.

But the conflict, which has gone on for almost a year, has seen more than 500,000 people face starvation, thousands killed and over a million displaced.