Sep 30, 2021 - World

Ethiopia expels 7 UN officials after Tigray famine warning

Ethiopia's Prime Minister  Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa in June 2021.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa in June 2021. Photo: Jemal Countess/Getty Images

Ethiopia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday it will expel seven United Nations officials after a senior UN official warned that thousands of people in war-torn Tigray were likely experiencing government-caused famine, according to Reuters.

Why it matters: The ministry accused the seven officials, including the head of the UN's Children's Fund and the head of its Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Office, of "meddling" in internal affairs and said they have 72 hours to leave the country.

Conditions in Tigray have greatly deteriorated since fighting broke out between Ethiopia's government and forces aligned with the Tigray People's Liberation Front around 10 months ago.

  • Thousands have died throughout the conflict and millions have been displaced.

What they're saying: On Tuesday, the UN's aid chief Martin Griffiths heavily criticized Ethiopia's government for intentionally restricting aid to the region in an interview with Reuters.

  • "We predicted that there were 400,000 people in famine-like conditions, at risk of famine, and the supposition was that if no aid got to them adequately they would slip into famine," Griffiths said, referring to a UN assessment from June.
  • "I have to assume that something like that is happening," he added.

The latest: “The U.S. government condemns in the strongest possible terms the government of Ethiopia's unprecedented action to expel the leadership of all of the United Nations organizations involved in ongoing humanitarian operations,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing Thursday.

  • "We’re deeply concerned that this action continues pattern by the Ethiopian Ethiopian government of restricting the delivery of food, medicine and other life saving supplies that most to those most in need," Psaki added.

The other side: Ethiopia's UN delegation said that the UN's claims of a blockade were "baseless" and that aid wasn't reaching the region because of a shortage of trucks and fuel, according to Reuters.

  • However, the UN has reported that drivers going into Tigray have twice been shot at and that others have been arrested in neighboring regions.

The big picture: The Biden administration threatened earlier this month to impose new sanctions on Ethiopian officials "responsible for, or complicit in, prolonging the conflict" in the Tigray region.

Go deeper: Tensions between Sudan and Ethiopia escalate over war in Tigray

Editor’s note: This post was updated to add comments from White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.

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