The Ethiopian military government today ordered the three Western correspondents based here to leave the country within 48 hours.
The measure, the latest in a series being taken against the United States and other Western countries and private organizations, affects Jeremy Toye of the British news agency Reuter, Laurent Chenard of the Agence France-Presse, and myself.
Meanwhile, 100 of about 350 Americans affected by Saturday's order to five U.S. organizations to close down their operations here flew to Athens today aboard a U.S. military plane. They were to continue on to the United States in a day or two.
A Ministry of Information spokesman said the expulsion of the three Western correspondents applied both to the individuals named and the organizations they work for. Later, however, he said the question of whether the agencies and the newspaper were also being expelled had not yet been settled.
The government statement said that the three correspondents, the only resident Western reporters in Ethiopia, "have been distorting out of all proportion events in Ethiopia in general and the progress of the ongoing revolution of the broad masses in particular."
As such, "they have been the main source of fallacious and totally biased dispatches used by the anti-Ethiopian propaganda campaign launched by the enemies of Ethiopia," the statement added.
The government said that the three correspondents have been giving very little attention to official government statements and have often relied on hearsay, rumors and fabricated propaganda material of counterrevolutionary elements."
It said the three journalists had colaborated to malign the image of the revolution" with the separatist Eritrean Liberation Front, the anti-Marxist Ethiopian Democratic Union and the extreme leftist Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party.
The Eritrean Front seeks the independence of Ethiopia's northern Red Sea province, Eritrea, and the other two groups are trying to overthrow the Marxist military government.
Last month the state-controlled media reprinted an article I wrote for the Washington Post saying the economy was holding up well despite the country's political problems. A short time later, however, the same newspapers criticized the same article, citing it as evidence that I was involved in an alleged CIA plot to discredit the country by engaging in "superficial praises."
About a dozen Eastern bloc news organizations will continue to have correspondents here.
Meanwhile, there was feverish activity in what is called "the American ghetto" on the outskirts of the capital. Americans expelled by Saturday's decree hurriedly packed their belongings in big containers provided by the Post Exchange of the U.S. Military Assistance Group.
Despite a State Department announcement that the Ethiopian government had agreed to extend the Wednesday deadline for their departure, there was no confirmation of this by the U.S. embassy today. In fact, plans were going ahead for the evacuation of all 350 Americans by Wednesday.
The embassy was understood to be seeking the Ethiopian government's agreement to allow a few officials from each of the five organizations affected to remain beyond Wednesday to complete the closure. It is also trying to get the government to set up a joint American-Ethiopian committee to assure the smooth-departure of the Americans.
In addition to the U.S. facilities ordered closed here in the national capital, the Ethiopians have ordered the United States and five other Western countries to close their consulates in Asmara, capital of war-torn Eritrea.
[In Damascus, the Eritrean Liberation Front said today that the consulates were closed to bar witnesses from a "big massacre." The front said the Ethiopian government is massing 2,000 militiamen for an invasion of Eritrea, where rebels have been struggling for indepedence for 15 years, AP reported]
American diplomatic efforts to gain access to the U.S. cultural center failed again today, and no Ethiopian or American employee was allowed to enter. Five policemen and soldiers stood guard at the door.
Earlier in the day, the Foreign Ministry assured the American embassay that its representative would be allowed to enter the cultural center to close it.
Confusion also reigned this morning at the compound of the U.S. Naval Medical Research Unit as police suddenly barred all persons from entering or leaving. About 30 American and Ethiopian employees, including 17 American doctors, were blocked inside the compound for hours.
On the whole, the evacuation appears to be going fairly smoothly and there has been little sign of anti-American gestures by the Ethiopian public. Indeed, many Ethiopians have expressed their disquiet over their country's apparent movement toward a break with the West and a realignment with the Eastern bloc.
At the U.S. Army Post Exchange, there was some trouble early this morning as a crowd of about 1,000 people, mostly children, tried to storm the wire fence and break into the store where goods shipped from the United States, including fresh vegetables and milk, are sold to official Americans living here.
Ethiopian military police dispersed the crowd by firing rifle shots over the the heads of the would-be looters. The police remained on guard afterward to keep all Ethiopians off the premises and to allow the more valuable merchandise, such as radios, stereos, and refrigerators, to be packed up for shipping out with the Americans.
The Post Exchange is here because of the presence of a 46-member U.S. Military Advisory Group. Both the advisory mission and the U.S. Kagnew communications stations in Asmara have been ordered closed, so the exchange is also being closed.
"We had to call the polie because everybody was trying to steal stuff," said Effie Parri, an Ethiopian of Greek parentage who runs the exchange and has been with the Americans for 22 years, first in Asmara and now here.
Asked what she planned to do now, she said, "I would like to go away, anywhere, just away." It is unlikely that she or any of the dozens of local employees will be able to leave.
Another American institution here hit hard by the closure of the five organizations is the American Community School. It is losing 88 students out of a total of 359. Sixty four Ethiopians attend on scholarships.