The Irish government has said that Ethiopia told four of Ireland’s six diplomats serving at its embassy in Addis Ababa to leave the country by next week.
Ireland’s ambassador and one other diplomat were told earlier this week they could stay but the others had to leave, a statement said on Wednesday.
“I deeply regret this decision by the government of Ethiopia,” Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said, adding that he hoped the move was temporary.
There was no immediate comment by Ethiopian officials.
Coveney defended Ireland’s stance on the ongoing conflict between the government and Tigrayan forces, saying it was in line with that of other bodies, including the European Union.
Ireland was a signatory to a November 5 United Nations Security Council statement that called for a ceasefire over the escalation of fighting in the north of the country.
The Irish government said that it echoed calls from the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about the need for full humanitarian access, an end to fighting and political dialogue.
The Irish embassy in Addis Ababa has not been closed and the two remaining diplomats were continuing to work with bodies, including the African Union.
“Ireland fully supports the role of the African Union in seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict, including through the work of its special envoy, former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo,” Coveney said. “We are committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia.”
The announcement came less than two months after the Ethiopian government ordered seven senior UN officials to leave Ethiopia accusing them of “meddling” in its internal affairs.
The seven officials, who included individuals from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), were declared “persona non grata” and given 72 hours to leave the country.
Fighting in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region has been raging between federal forces and those aligned with them since November 2020.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in November 2020 sent troops into Tigray to remove the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) after months of tensions with the northern region’s governing party, which dominated national politics for three decades.
The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner promised a swift victory, but by late June the Tigrayan forces had regrouped and retaken most of Tigray, including its capital, Mekelle.
Since then, the Tigrayan forces have pushed into the neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions and this week claimed control of Shewa Robit, just 220km (135 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa by road. The Tigrayan forces and their allies have threatened to march on the capital, Addis Ababa. They have also been fighting to try to cut a transport corridor linking landlocked Ethiopia with the region’s main port Djibouti.
Ethiopian state media reported on Wednesday that Abiy had gone to the front lines to personally direct the war effort.
“The time has come to lead the country with sacrifice,” Abiy had said in a Twitter post late on Monday. “Those who want to be among the Ethiopian children who will be hailed by history, rise up for your country today. Let’s meet at the battlefront.”
Thousands of people have died in the brutal conflict marked by gang rapes, mass expulsions and the destruction of medical centres.
The prospect of the country breaking apart has alarmed both Ethiopians and observers who fear what would happen to the often turbulent region at large. Several countries including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany and Turkey have told their citizens to leave immediately.
Ireland currently recommends against all travel to Ethiopia and that Irish citizens should leave the country immediately by commercial means.
Ireland has had a diplomatic presence in Ethiopia since 1994 and provided with $185m in government aid funding in the last five years.
In the coming weeks, Irish Aid will disburse $18m to partners operating in Ethiopia, including United Nations humanitarian organisations.