Ethiopia is expelling seven senior U.N. officials, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday, two days after the world body’s aid chief warned a government blockade of aid had likely forced hundreds of thousands of people
in the northern region of Tigray into famine.
There has been increasing international criticism of conditions in Tigray and all parties fighting in northern Ethiopia face the possibility of sanctions from the U.S. government.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Thursday that the United States condemns the expulsions and will not hesitate to use sanctions against those who obstruct humanitarian efforts.
Many nations fear the spreading conflict in Ethiopia – Africa’s second-most-populous nation and a regional diplomatic heavyweight – might further destabilize an already fragile region.
The seven people being expelled include the country heads of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The seven have 72 hours to leave, the ministry said in a statement, accusing them of “meddling” in internal affairs.
A statement from U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he was “shocked” by the expulsions and added: “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.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Conflict erupted between federal forces and those aligned with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the political party that controls the region, in November.