Addis Ababa — ETHIOPIA is edging towards pariah status following the expulsion of United Nations (UN) leaders for allegedly meddling in the country's internal affairs.
It is the latest twist in a turn of ill-fated events since Ethiopia spilled into crisis towards the end of 2020 when the northern Tigray region and the federal government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed fell out.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday declared seven senior officials of UN agencies as "persona non grata" and urged the envoys to leave within 72 hours.
The diplomats are Saeed Mohamoud Hersi, Adele Khodr, Grant Leaity, Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, Sonny Onyegbula, Kwesi Sansculotte and Marcy Vigoda.
They have been critical of the escalating humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region.
Ahmed's government recently forced two humanitarian organisations to halt their operations.
It is a spectacular heel turn by a man who as recently as 2019 won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Refugees International condemned the expulsion of the UN envoys at a time the Tigray conflict had already pushed some 900 000 people into famine with deaths now being reported regularly.
The agency lamented the government's humanitarian blockade was causing the famine, stopping food and medicine from reaching those in need.
Women, children and the elderly are disproportionately affected by the famine. Killings and rape perpetrated by warring parties are widespread.
"Kicking out senior UN leaders will only make the crisis worse," Hardin Lang, Refugees International Vice President for Programmes and Policy, said.
Lang noted the violence and hunger were spreading to other parts of Ethiopia, including the fragile Amhara and Afar regions.
Secretary‑General António Guterres, the UN Secretary‑General, expressed shock.
"I was shocked by the information that the Government of Ethiopia has declared seven UN officials, including senior UN humanitarian officials, as persona non grata."
Guterres retained hope the UN staff would be allowed to continue their work.
The United States called for an immediate reversal of the expulsions.
"The expulsion is counterproductive to international efforts to keep civilians safe, and deliver lifesaving humanitarian assistance to the millions in dire need," Antony Blinken, Secretary of State, said.
Blinken threatened, "We will not hesitate to use this authority or other tools to respond to those who obstruct humanitarian assistance to the people of Ethiopia."
US President Joe Biden in September issued an Executive Order establishing a new sanctions regime that authorized the imposition of targeted economic sanctions in connection with the crisis in Tigray.
"We call on the international community similarly to employ all appropriate tools to apply pressure on the Government of Ethiopia and any other actors impeding humanitarian access," Blinken stated.
Ethiopia occupies a strategic position as host of the African Union (AU).
It also is the continent's second most populous nation (after Nigeria), with 118,4 million people.