Approximately 80 Irish citizens in Ethiopia are being urged to leave the country immediately as rebels approach the capital in what is a rapidly deteriorating security situation.
Four of the six Irish diplomats in the Irish embassy in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, have been asked by the Government there to leave.
The ambassador and one other diplomat are being permitted to remain, the Department of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.
The department, which had been quietly asking Irish citizens in Ethiopia to leave the country, is now directly urging them to leave immediately.
“The Ethiopian authorities indicated that the decision to scale-down the size of our embassy was due to the positions Ireland has articulated internationally, including at the UN Security Council, on the ongoing conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia,” the department said.
The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, said people should not travel to Ethiopia because of the security situation.
“Irish citizens in Ethiopia should leave the country by commercial means immediately,” he said.
The escalating war in the country has been provoking increasing international alarm as Tigrayan rebels approach the capital and fears grow of the country splitting.
Mr Coveney said the focus of Irish embassy personnel will be the provision of consular services, although the reduction in diplomatic staff numbers by two thirds will inevitably affect the ability to help people leave.
“I deeply regret this decision by the government of Ethiopia,” he said in a statement following the request that the Irish diplomats leave within a week.
“That Ethiopia has been the largest recipient of Irish Aid funds in the last five years is a demonstration of Ireland’s deep commitment to the country.”
Speaking on the News at One on RTÉ radio, Mr Coveney said Ethiopia has received €165 million in development support from Ireland over the past five years. Ireland had a long-standing and close relationship with the country.
Unfortunately there had been “a lot of death and killing already this year but it could get an awful lot worse,” he said.
He said that for many months Ireland has been shining a spotlight on things that had been happening in Ethiopia that were of serious humanitarian concern.
Among the matters of concern was the use of sexual violence as a tool of conflict, “which is essentially mass rape,” he said.
Ireland had in many ways led the political debate at the Security Council with regard to whether the UN should intervene in the situation and the Ethiopian government was now “targeting” Ireland.
Ethiopia has a population of 115 million people and, should it effectively split in civil war, it will create enormous instability in the region, the minister said.
Ireland has been extremely vocal on the situation in Ethiopia and unfortunately the Ethiopian government has taken that as Ireland speaking against it. “That is not what we have been doing.” Ireland is not in favour of Ethiopian splitting up, he said.
Ireland’s message will remain consistent, he said, and along with the US and the EU, Ireland will be trying to put pressure on those that matter in Ethiopia to focus on dialogue and not on war.