Canada withdraws non-essential personnel from Ethiopia as security situation deteriorates

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly speaks during a press conference on October 26, 2021 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Canada is pulling family members of embassy staff and non-essential employees from Ethiopia as rebel groups push towards the capital, Addis Ababa, and the country enters a state of emergency.

Global Affairs Canada released a statement on Sunday saying the “situation in Ethiopia is rapidly changing and deteriorating” and urged Canadians in the country to register with a government emergency notification system.

The military conflict in Ethiopia has intensified over the past week, with rebel fighters from the Tigray and Oromia regions capturing several towns a day’s drive north of Addis Ababa, according to reports.

On Tuesday, the Ethiopian government declared a six-month state of emergency in the country and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed told residents of the capital, a city of five million, to prepare for an armed defense of their neighborhoods.

Ottawa also issued a travel warning for Ethiopia, highlighting ethnic strife, civil unrest and armed conflict in the north of the country, which it said could spread to other regions “without warning”.

“If you are in Ethiopia and your presence is not essential, consider leaving if it is safe to do so,” the warning reads. The Canadian Embassy in the country remains open.

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The US State Department ordered non-emergency US government employees and their families to leave Ethiopia on Friday and issued a warning on Saturday not to travel to the country.

“Incidents of civil unrest and ethnic violence occur without warning. The situation could escalate further and lead to supply chain shortages, communication breakdowns and travel disruptions,” the State Department said Saturday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said on Twitter on Sunday that she had spoken with Canada’s Ambassador to Ethiopia, Stephane Jobin, about the measures being taken to protect embassy staff and their families.

“Canada stands with all the Ethiopian people. The documented violations and abuses of human rights and breaches of international humanitarian law are deeply concerning. Canada calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities,” she wrote.

The country’s civil war began a year ago in the northern Tigray region, when the prime minister ordered a military offensive in the region in response to attacks by Tigray People’s Liberation Front fighters on a base. federal military. Federal forces quickly captured major towns and villages in the area, but then suffered a series of military setbacks, including a major defeat in June that forced government troops to withdraw from the area.

The year-long conflict has created a humanitarian crisis in Africa’s second most populous country and the economic engine of East Africa. A report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in September said there were around 2.1 million internally displaced people in Tigray and hundreds of thousands displaced in other parts of the country. .

A joint investigation by the UN Human Rights Office and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, released on Wednesday, revealed new details of atrocities committed by both sides in the first eight months of the war. These include massacres, torture, executions and mass rapes of civilians.

“Some of these acts could constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” UN human rights commissioner Michelle Bachelet told a news conference after the report was released. .

She said the majority of violations in the first eight months have been perpetrated by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers, who are fighting alongside government forces. More recently, alleged abuses by Tigrayan forces have increased, while reported violations by Ethiopian and Eritrean troops have continued, she said.

Global Affairs on Saturday issued a statement on the report, released jointly with 15 other countries, which called for justice and accountability for victims, the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Ethiopia and a ceasefire and peace negotiations. peace.

“Now, more than ever, the findings of the report make it very clear that as the war in northern Ethiopia rages, the human toll of the conflict will continue to rise, not only because of the conflict but also because of of starvation,” the statement said.

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Michelle J. Kelley