Seven high-ranking UN officials who were expelled from Ethiopia by its government last week are no longer in the country due to fears over their safety, UN spokesman Farhan Haq announced on Monday.
The UN maintained its position that Ethiopia’s decision to expel the officials was not valid, but the workers were “moved from the country to ensure their safety”, Mr Haq said.
“None of the seven UN staff named by the Ethiopian government is in the country at present,” Mr Haq said in New York.
Addis Ababa on Thursday accused seven UN staffers of “meddling” in Ethiopian affairs, declared them “personae non grata” and gave them 72 hours to leave the country.
Mr Haq said the classification of persona non grata would apply only to foreign diplomats and not UN officials. The seven employees remained “fit for the job” and should be allowed back into the landlocked African nation, he said.
“We believe that they need to be able to go about their work, including having access to the country as needed,” said Mr Haq.
The row over the expelled UN officials comes as Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was on Monday sworn in for a second five-year term at a ceremony in the capital Addis Ababa.
He began his new term amid an 11-month conflict between the government and rebels in the northern Tigray region, who have since pushed into neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions.
Tens of thousands have been killed in the conflict and hundreds of thousands face famine-like conditions.
The prime minister, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner for embracing political reforms and restoring ties with Eritrea, also faces other major challenges including ethnic violence and a worsening human rights situation.
US President Joe Biden, who is considering a genocide determination for the region, was asked by a reporter about the situation in Ethiopia on Monday but he declined to comment, saying he did not want to “confuse the American people”.