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Ethiopia Expels Norwegian Diplomats


Ethiopia has expelled six Norwegian diplomats it accuses of interfering in its internal affairs. Just days after Sudan took similar action against Canadian and European Union envoys, the move raises fears that expulsions are becoming a favored technique for governments rejecting criticism of their human-rights records. Nick Wadhams has more from Nairobi.

Norway says it is surprised by the Ethiopian order that it withdraw the diplomats, but has not indicated it will retaliate or break diplomatic relations with Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government.

No reason was given in the formal announcement of the expulsion. A top adviser to Mr. Meles, Bereket Simon, tells VOA News that Norway has interfered in internal policies and on issues including Ethiopia's arch-rival, Eritrea, and Somalia, where Ethiopia sent troops to battle Islamist fighters.

"Our repeated pleas for correcting the mistakes done by the Norwegian government in terms of playing a negative role in the stability of the Horn of Africa and then our internal affairs have failed," he said. "Definitely they are working in tandem with the Eritrean government, that is what we believe and that is what we have found out. Here in Ethiopia also they are behind every negative act that is committed by some of the Ethiopian organizations."

Ethiopia and Eritrea have been unable to resolve border disputes left over from a bitter war. Ethiopia also accuses Eritrea of backing internal Ethiopian rebel groups, as well as the Islamic extremists it sought to oust from Somalia. Norway has backed new border talks with Eritrea, an idea Ethiopia opposes.

Ethiopia's neighbor, Sudan, expelled European Union and Canadian diplomats and the country director of the U.S.-based aid group CARE a few days ago. No reason was given, but the CARE official, Paul Barker, said he believed Sudan was upset about an internal memo he wrote concerning the security situation for his staff in the Darfur region.

Officials and observers from nearby countries say they have become worried by the recent behavior of Sudanese and Ethiopian leaders, who have shown increased willingness to expel or hinder both foreign diplomats and aid organizations.

Analyst and occasional presidential adviser in Uganda, Aggrey Awori, says expulsions are an easy way to get the international community's attention if a government feels it is coming under too much pressure.

Awori says the expulsions may also serve domestic interests. They send a chilling message to groups at home that work with international donors and aid agencies.

"That is the normal route for a dictatorial government when they run into roadblock of similar nature," he explained. "It is really a message for the internal opposition and other recipients of similar aid from abroad. Conform or else you will starve to death."

Foreign diplomats in Ethiopia have complained in the past that Mr. Meles's government makes it impossible for them to speak openly about human-rights issues. Some have been warned the government will not allow them to deliver aid or do unrestricted work if they speak out too much.