Ethiopia on Thursday expelled seven UN aid workers, accusing them of interfering with the country’s domestic affairs.
A notice by Dina Mufti, the Spokesman for Ethiopia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, indicated that the seven officials will have to leave the country by Sunday.
“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 hrs.”
The official did not elaborate on what they were accused of meddling in.
The notice listed Mr Adele Khodr, the UNICEF country Representative for Ethiopia; Mr Sonny Onyegbula, the Monitoring, Reporting and Advocacy Team Leader for the UN Office of the 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 are Mr Saeed Mohamoud Hersi who has been serving as Deputy Head of Ethiopia Office for UNOCHA; Grant Leaity, the Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for UNOCHA in Ethiopia; Mrs Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, Acting Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for UNOCHA; and Mrs Marcy Vigoda, a coordinator for humanitarian affairs.
Once declared persona non-grata, a person must leave the country as prescribed or be stripped of diplomatic immunity and protection.
UN secretary general Antonio Guterres said he was shocked by Ethiopia's decision to expel the seven UN officials.
"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," Guterres said in a statement.
"I have full confidence in the UN staff who are in Ethiopia doing this work.
"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," he added.
Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) spokesperson Getachew Reda criticised PM Abiy over the expulsion of the aid worker.
"Abiy Ahmed's solution to the worsening humanitarian crisis in Tigray is to declare UN humanitarian personnel in Addis persona non grata," he said n a Twitter post.
UNOCHA has been vocal in demanding for safe and secure humanitarian corridors in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where government forces have been battling fighters of the TPLF since November last year.
TPLF, once a ruling party in Ethiopia, has been declared a terrorist group.
Last week, the US government gave Ethiopia, TPLF and other fighting parties, including Eritrea, two weeks to lay down arms and choose dialogue or else their masterminds would be sanctioned.
Ethiopia responded by accusing the US of undue pressure on Addis Ababa.
The Tigray conflict which has panned out for almost a year has seen more than 500,000 people face starvation, thousands killed and over a million displaced.
- Additional reporting by Tesfa-Alem Tekle.