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Canada withdrawing staff in Ethiopia as security situation deteriorates

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Foreign Affairs Minister Melanie Joly speaks during a news conference, on Oct. 26, 2021 in Ottawa.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

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

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

The military conflict in Ethiopia has escalated over the past week, with rebel fighters from the country’s 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 people, to prepare for an armed defence of their neighbourhoods.

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

“If you are in Ethiopia and your presence isn’t essential, consider leaving if you can do so safely,” the warning says. The Canadian embassy in the country remains open.

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The U.S. State Department ordered the departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and their families from Ethiopia on Friday and issued a do-not-travel warning for the country on Saturday.

“Incidents of civil unrest and ethnic violence are occurring without warning. The situation may escalate further and may cause supply chain shortages, communications blackouts and travel disruptions,” the state department said Saturday.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mélanie Joly said on Twitter Sunday that she has spoken with Canada’s ambassador to Ethiopia, Stéphane Jobin, about the steps being taken to protect embassy staff and their families.

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

Civil war in the country began a year ago in the northern Tigray region, when the Prime Minister ordered a military offensive into the region in response to attacks by Tigray People’s Liberation Front fighters on a federal military base. Federal forces quickly captured the region’s major cities and towns, but later suffered a series of military setbacks, including a major defeat in June that forced government troops to withdraw from the region.

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

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

“Some of this may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity,” UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said in a press conference after the release of the report.

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

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

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

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