In a statement posted on Twitter on Thursday, the ministry accused seven members of the UN’s representation in Ethiopia of “meddling in the internal affairs of the country.”
The Foreign Ministry also gave the names of the seven individuals concerned, which include a representative of UNICEF and a team leader for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The seven have been given 72 hours to leave the country and were declared “persona non grata” – meaning their diplomatic immunity would no longer apply.
Secretary General Antonio Guterres was shocked by Ethiopia’s move, UN spokeswoman Stephanie Tremblay said at a press briefing later in the day.
“We are now engaging with the government of Ethiopia in the expectation that the concerned UN [personnel] will be allowed to continue their important work,” Tremblay said.
The decision to expel the diplomats comes just two days after UN aid chief Martin Griffiths said he assumed that famine had already taken hold in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The area has seen 10 months of war between Ethiopia’s federal troops and forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Tigray has experienced a near-three-month de-facto blockade, Griffiths told Reuters, adding that aid deliveries have been restricted to 10% of what is needed. “Get those trucks moving… This is man-made, this can be remedied by the act of government,” he urged.
UN agencies have reported that only a small percentage of the aid trucks that have entered the region have left since July 12. A lack of fuel is one reason that has been cited, with Griffiths claiming no fuel deliveries have reached the region since late July.
Thousands have died since the war broke out in Tigray, and more than two million people have been forced to leave their homes.