UN Official Withdrawn from Ethiopia over Audio Recording

The United Nations migration agency has recalled a staff member identified by two UN sources in Addis Ababa as head of the UN mission to Ethiopia, over an audio recording criticizing senior UN officials.

In the recording, two women who said they worked for the UN in Ethiopia but did not give their names, told a freelance reporter that several senior UN officials globally sympathized with troops from the northern Tigray region fighting the Ethiopian government.

Reuters heard the comments of the two women after the recording was released online, but could not independently verify the authenticity of the recording.

In a letter dated October 11, the head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said a staff member had been recalled to headquarters and given administrative leave pending an investigation into the footage.

“The opinions expressed in the audiotape to staff members are inconsistent with IOM principles and values,” wrote IOM Director General Antonio Vitorino in the letter, which read Reuters, Tuesday (12/10).

In his letter, Vitorino did not mention the name of the person called.

Two UN staff members in Addis Ababa identified one of the women on the tape as Maureen Achieng, IOM’s chief representative in Ethiopia.

An IOM spokesman did not immediately respond when asked if the person summoned to the UN headquarters was Achieng. Achieng and the reporter could not be reached for comment.

The United Nations says the Ethiopian government is blocking aid from reaching hundreds of thousands of starving people in Tigray, where the war has left nearly seven million people dependent on food aid. The government has denied blocking the aid. Ethiopia last month decided to expel seven senior UN officials, accusing them of interfering in internal affairs.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, Tuesday (12/10), criticized IOM on Twitter. He said Achieng – who was referred to by linking to Achieng’s verified Twitter account – had told the “undeniable truth about institutional bias in the UN system.”

War broke out in November 2020 between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the political party that controls Tigray.

In the recording, the two women without citing evidence said World Health Organization head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was among UN officials sympathetic to Tigray’s forces. Tedros, who is a member of the Tigra tribe, has repeatedly denied taking sides in the conflict. [my/jm]

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