Norway to withdraw six diplomats from Ethiopia

AFP / August 28, 2007

OSLO (AFP) - Norway is to reduce its diplomatic presence in Ethiopia after Addis Ababa expressed "dissatisfaction" with Oslo's policies in the Horn of Africa, the foreign ministry announced Monday.

"We are surprised and regret the Ethiopian authorities' unilateral decision," said Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere in a statement on the ministry's website.

Norway had urged Ethiopia to reconsider its decision, but Ethiopia had maintained its position and so six Norwegian diplomats would be leaving, the statement added.

"This sharp reduction in staffing means that we may not be able to maintain our development cooperation with Ethiopia at the current level," Stoere added. "We regret the impact this will have on our partners."

Junior foreign minister Raymond Johansen told AFP: "The Ethiopian decision was passed to us on August 15 in a totally unexpected manner."

Ethiopia had accused Norway of trying to promote the interests of its enemy Eritrea in the course of its mediation work to bring about peace in the region, said Johansen.

In particular they raised Norway's contacts with Eritrea in the course of its efforts to work end the conflicts in Somalia and Sudan, he added.

The Norwegian foreign ministry statement however stressed that this did not mean a break in diplomatic relations with Ethiopia.

Norway's embassy in Ethiopia is also responsible for relations with the African Union, which has its headquarters in Addis Ababa.

Addis Ababa is seen to be wary of Norway's backing of Asmara, which supports some rebel groups in Somalia and Sudan. Oslo actively backed Asmara during its liberation struggle.

Somalia and Ethiopia allege that Eritrea is trying to destabilize the interim government in Somalia by arming insurgents who have staged some of the worst fighting in the capital Mogadishu in more than a decade.

Asmara denies the charge and in turn says Ethiopia is guilty of breaking international law by "invading" Somalia and interfering with the country's right to chose its own leaders.