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NEW YORK: The United Nations Security Council will hold special discussions on Friday of Ethiopia’s decision to expel seven top UN officials, diplomats said, as malnutrition rates soar and famine looms in the war-torn northern region of Tigray.
The United States, Britain, Ireland, Estonia, France and Norway plan to raise the issue at the closed-door meeting of the 15-nation Security Council, but diplomats say no strong action is likely in the council after Russia and China have long made clear they believe the conflict is an internal Ethiopian affair.
Ethiopia announced the expulsion of United Nations officials on Thursday, two days after the international humanitarian coordinator, Martin Griffiths, warned that the “de facto” denial of aid access likely caused hundreds of thousands of Tigrays to starve.
Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment on the decision to expel UN officials. Ethiopia had previously denied obstructing the delivery of food aid.
“While a major new military offensive is looming, this (resolution) looks like an attempt by Ethiopia to test whether the international community is ready to respond with more than words to a widening famine,” a senior Western official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The war broke out ten months ago between the Ethiopian federal forces and the forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which controls the region. The war has killed thousands and displaced more than two million people from their homes.
The spillover of the conflict into the Amhara and Afar regions would increase humanitarian needs and displacement. In June, a UN assessment found that 400,000 people in Tigray were living in famine-like conditions.
Ethiopia’s decision to expel seven United Nations officials came as a shock to the Secretary-General of the International Organization, Antonio Guterres, and he said yesterday, Thursday, that the organization is contacting the Ethiopian government “with the expectation that the relevant United Nations workers will be allowed to continue their important work.”
The United States condemned the expulsion of international officials and warned that it would not hesitate to impose sanctions on any party that obstructs the delivery of humanitarian aid.
The United Nations stressed today, Friday, that it is necessary for the aid operation to continue in Tigray, where 5.2 million people in the region need assistance.
Jens Laerke, spokesman for the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs, said on Friday that only about 11 percent of trucks needed to transport critical food items had entered Tigray since mid-July.
He added that 79 percent of pregnant and lactating women who were examined in Tigray last week were severely malnourished.
He told reporters in Geneva, “So far, there is no indication that (Ethiopia’s decision) is halting the humanitarian operation” under way in the region.
“The expulsion of seven people from three (UN) agencies is extremely rare, if not unprecedented,” said Rupert Colville, a spokesman for the UN human rights office.