UN puts its Ethiopia chief on administrative leave over Tigray war remarks
ADDIS ABABA - A top United Nations' Migration chief has been put on compulsory leave over "unauthorized interviews" on the Tigray region, with reports indicating that she accused a number of her colleagues of being sympathizers to Tigray Defense Forces [TDF].
In a letter dated Monday, Maureen Achieng, UN says her conduct could undermine ongoing efforts to reach out to people who are in need of aid in the war-torn Tigray. Last month, Ethiopia had suspended 7 senior UN officials, accusing them of meddling in the affairs of the country.
The war in the Tigray region has lasted for over 11 months, leaving thousands dead and others displaced. The incident comes at the time Ethiopia National Defense Forces [ENDF] have launched an onslaught against Tigray Defense Forces [TDF].
A number of audios leaked last week in which Achieng and another senior UN official were heard granting a lengthy interview to Jeff Pearce, a writer who has published multiple articles defending the government's conduct of the war against the TDF.
In one of the audios, Achieng, the International Organization for Migration's chief of mission to Ethiopia, tears into colleagues who "descended on" Addis Ababa after the war erupted last November and, in her telling, sidelined officials on the ground.
She also calls the TDF "dirty" and "vicious", vowing never to return to Tigray.
At one point she accuses the rebels of plotting to have Tigrayan migrant workers facing deportation from Saudi Arabia sent to Rwanda.
"And then you don't know what guerrilla movement starts from Rwanda. I mean, it's dirty," she says.
In an internal note to colleagues last week, also seen by AFP, Achieng said she was "deeply disturbed and disappointed" by the audio, which she said had been "surreptitiously recorded and selectively edited."
However at several points during the interview, the participants openly discuss that it is being recorded.
On Monday Antonio Vitorino, director-general of IOM wrote a letter distancing the agency from Achieng's comments.
"The opinions attributed in the audio recordings to the staff member do not correspond to IOM's principles and values and should not in any way be considered as expressing IOM's positions," it said.
The letter, which does not refer to Achieng by name, says she was "immediately recalled," and "put on administrative leave" pending an investigation.
Her interview violated the IOM's values and code of conduct, Mohammed Abdiker, the agency's regional director for the East and Horn of Africa, told AFP.
"In all our operations we try to be impartial and neutral in our work. We do not take sides in a conflict," Abdiker said, adding that Achieng's comments raised security concerns for staff members on the ground, including in Tigray.
The Ethiopian war seems to be far from over following renewed fights engineered by ENDF against the TDF. The international community has been struggling to call for a ceasefire but the parties involved in the conflict seem to be determined to tore on each other.