Why Ethiopia wants to expel UN officials sounding famine alarm bells

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The Ethiopian government decided to expel seven United Nations officials from the country on Thursday, a dramatic move that threatens to exacerbate the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region.

A civil war between Ethiopia’s federal government and the northern Tigray region, which began late last year, has resulted in widespread atrocities and created conditions of famine in parts of the country. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s decision to expel UN officials from the country comes after they raised concerns about the worsening humanitarian situation.

UN officials have repeatedly warned that the Ethiopian government is blocking the flow of essential supplies – like medicine, food and fuel – to the Tigray region, with as little as 10 percent of needed humanitarian supplies being allowed to enter. The accusations were echoed this week by the head of the UN humanitarian aid arm, along with a report finding the region on the brink of famine.

Abiy’s announcement on Thursday, which only gave officials 72 hours to leave the country, is a rare departure from international standards. While it’s not entirely unprecedented for a country to expel UN officials, it’s unusual – and according to the New York Times, Abiy’s move would be one of the biggest expulsions in this period. type of UN officials in history, surpassing Syria’s 2015 impeachment of three UN officials.

As of Saturday, however, it is not clear whether the seven officials have left the country – and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has already pushed back the move, saying in a statement Friday that the UN “s’ now engages with the Ethiopian government with the expectation that relevant UN personnel will be allowed to continue their important work.

US officials also condemned Abiy’s pressure to expel UN officials.

“The expulsion runs counter to international efforts to ensure the safety of civilians and to provide life-saving humanitarian aid to millions of people in need,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Thursday.

Abiy’s government justified the deportation order by accusing UN officials of “interfering” in Ethiopia’s affairs, but this comes just two days after the head of the United Nations United Nations for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, or OCHA, has expressed concerns over the famine in Tigray, home to an estimated 6 million people. The official directive from Ethiopia’s foreign ministry arrived on Thursday, the same day OCHA released a report finding that 79% of pregnant and breastfeeding women in Tigray are malnourished and fuel and medicine have not reached. the region since July.

According to the UN, 5.2 million people in Tigray – about 90 percent of its population – need humanitarian assistance to survive, which requires a flow of about 100 trucks loaded with supplies into the region per day. . Yet only 606 of those vehicles have entered the state since July 12, reports The New York Times.

This is not the first time that the government has forced a humanitarian group to leave Tigray for opposing the government’s official speech on conditions there.

The Dutch branch of Médecins Sans Frontières – MSF, or Médecins Sans Frontières – suspended its activities in western and north-western Tigray for three months from early September after the Ethiopian Agency for Society Organizations civil ordered them to do so at the end of July. The Norwegian Refugee Council received the same order on July 30 and suspended operations in Ethiopia in early August; The Ethiopian authorities had accused the groups of supporting the Tigrayan political cause, even claiming that aid workers had armed members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Tigray, or TPLF.

Ethiopia ended one war and started another

The sacking of UN officials is the latest development in the Ethiopian government’s ongoing war in the Tigray region. In the past 11 months, since Abiy sent the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, or ENDF, to Tigray to retaliate against a TPLF attack on an ENDF base there, Tigray has slipped further towards the disaster.

This initial skirmish, as Vox’s Jen Kirby explained in April, was widely seen as a pretext for the national government to invade the Tigray region.

The conflict between Tigray, which is both an ethnic group and a part of the country, and the Abiy administration seemed inevitable almost since Abiy took power in 2018. Abiy’s coming to power put an end to almost 30 years of domination by the Tigrayan wing of Ethiopia. People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, or EPRDF.

Before Abiy, protests against government corruption and human rights violations were on the rise in Ethiopia; in particular, says Kirby, the Omoro and Amhara ethnic groups were frustrated with the Tigray’s grip on positions of power in the government and the military, even though only 6 percent of Ethiopians are Tigers.

In 2018, Abiy – a member of the Omoro group and a relatively new political comer – was elected head of the EPRDF and assumed the role of prime minister. He came to power promising democratic elections and the release of political prisoners, and even negotiated peace with neighboring Eritrea, ending a 20-year war. The following year he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for ending that conflict – to precipitate a brutal civil war a year later.

“This is created by man, it can be corrected by the act of government”

Now, as Ethiopia’s civil war approaches the one-year threshold, international aid groups say the deadly famine in Tigray state is about to worsen.

“We predicted that there were 400,000 people in near starvation conditions, threatened with starvation, and the assumption was that if no aid reached them adequately, they would fall into starvation,” he told Reuters Martin Griffiths, director of OCHA, this week. citing a June UN assessment. Since June, the Abiy administration has imposed what Griffiths called a “de facto blockade”, with only about 10 percent of urgent supplies entering Tigray.

The crisis has been further compounded by another factor: In addition to the civil war, an invasion of Desert Locusts has disrupted the region’s growing season over the past two years, with neighboring Ethiopia and Somalia and Kenya making the costs of the invasion of crops. eat parasites. A 2019 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations specifically states that the Ethiopian states of Tigray, Somalia, Orowia and Amhara are suffering the worst damage from the swarm.

But despite the locust swarms and consecutive seasons of low rainfall and low crop yields, the UN says the main driver of the impending Tigray famine remains the federal government of Ethiopia.

“This is man-made, it can be corrected by the act of government,” Griffiths said.

However, it is not clear if conflict is in sight. The Tigray War has already spread to neighboring states in Ethiopia and displaced more than 1.7 million people from their homes; As the conflict continues, these problems only get worse.

The UN Security Council discussed the situation at a meeting on Friday, with some member countries expressing serious concerns about Ethiopia’s behavior, both now and in the future.

“As a major new military offensive looms, this appears to be Ethiopia’s attempt to test whether the international community is ready to respond with more than words to an unfolding famine,” an official told Reuters anonymous westerner.

“We fear that this could be a precursor to other activities,” Geraldine Byrne Nason, Irish ambassador to the UN, said on Friday.



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