Starvation, gang rapes, mass expulsions and destruction of health centers mark Ethiopia's campaign against Tigray minority

Ethiopia said Thursday it is kicking out seven United Nations officials whom it accused of “meddling” in the country’s internal affairs, as pressure grows on the government over its deadly blockade of the Tigray region, the Associated Press reports.

The expulsions are the government’s most dramatic move yet to restrict humanitarian access to the region of 6 million people after nearly a year of war. The U.N. has become increasingly outspoken as the flow of medical supplies, food and fuel has been brought to a near-halt.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “shocked” by the announcement and expressed “full confidence” in U.N. staff, saying they are guided by impartiality and neutrality. In a statement, he said the U.N. is engaging with Ethiopia’s government “in the expectation that the concerned U.N. staff will be allowed to continue their important work.”

Ethiopia’s government has accused humanitarian workers of supporting the Tigray forces who have been fighting its soldiers and allied forces since November. Aid workers have denied it. Thousands of people have died in the conflict marked by gang rapes, mass expulsions and the destruction of health centers, with witnesses often blaming Ethiopian soldiers and those of neighboring Eritrea.

The U.N.’s humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths, this week told The Associated Press that the crisis in Ethiopia is a “stain on our conscience” as children and others starve to death in Tigray under what the U.N. calls a de facto government blockade. Just 10% of needed humanitarian supplies have been reaching Tigray in recent weeks, he said.

The remarks were one of the sharpest criticisms so far of the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade, with some 400,000 people facing famine conditions. Memories of the 1980s famine in Ethiopia, which killed around 1 million people and produced images that shocked the world, are vivid in his mind, Griffiths said, “and we fervently hope (this) is not happening at present.”

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