Ethiopia Accuses ‘Criminal’ W.H.O. Director Tedros of Backing Violent Rebels

World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus briefs the press on evolution of new coronavirus epidemic on January 29, 2020 in Geneva. (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images

Ethiopian Army Chief of Staff Berhanu Jula gave a televised address on Wednesday in which he denounced Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a longtime member of the Ethiopian government but currently head of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.), as a “criminal” for supporting the Tigray separatists who are fighting against the government in Addis Ababa.

Berhanu called on Tedros to step down from his position at W.H.O., which did not immediately respond to his allegations.

Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed launched a military operation against the Tigray region in early November after growing animosity between the powerful Tigrayan minority and the national government came to a head with the Tigray occupation of a federal military base. 

The increasingly vicious civil war threatens to expand into a regional conflict, as the Tigrayans accused neighboring Eritrea of supporting Abiy’s campaign against them and launched rockets into Eritrea this week. 

The Ethiopian military said on Thursday it is preparing to invade Mekelle, the capital city of the Tigrayan region. The dominant regional political party and militant organization, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), vowed to make the battle for Mekelle a bloodbath as painful for Abiy’s forces as “walking on a burning flame.” 

Outside observers believe the campaign could become a quagmire, as TPLF fighters are experienced at guerrilla warfare, they have favorable terrain for conducting such operations, and many members of the Ethiopian armed forces are Tigrayans. The national government issued 76 arrest warrants on Wednesday for army officers accused of having ties to the TPLF.

The conflict has already produced troubling humanitarian crises, including widespread hunger and refugees. Both sides have been accused of human rights violations.

Curiously, the world’s most prominent member of the TPLF, W.H.O. Director-General Tedros, has not taken a public position on the conflict. Army chief Berhanu Jula alleged on Thursday that Tedros is secretly aiding the Tigray separatists behind the scenes, including helping them to obtain weapons.

Berhanu said Tedros, who held the positions of health minister and foreign minister in Ethiopia as a member of the TPLF before departing for the World Health Organization, is still an active member of the TPLF “team” and “left no stone unturned” to help them.

“He has worked in neighboring countries to condemn the war. He has worked for them to get weapons,” Berhanu said of Tedros in his televised conference. By this, he evidently meant that Tedros is working behind the scenes to give the TPLF diplomatic support and undermine Abiy’s military campaign.

“What do you expect from him? We don’t expect he will side with the Ethiopian people and condemn them,” Berhanu added, denouncing Tedros as a “criminal” for supporting the separatists.

An unnamed “top official” of the Ethiopian government made the very same charges, in greater detail, to Turkey’s Andalou Agency on Tuesday. It is possible this official was Berhanu or someone working for him, but the article offered few clues to his identity beyond referring to him as male.

“Tedros had been lobbying the U.N. agencies to exert pressure on the Ethiopian government to unconditionally stop its military action against the TPLF. He was relentlessly demonizing us,” the anonymous official told the Andalou Agency.

The official specifically accused Tedros of soliciting Egyptian military support for the TPLF, noting that Egypt has been feuding with Abiy’s government over the construction of a massive dam on the Nile. He accused Tedros of “treason” for colluding with the Egyptians against Ethiopia.

“[Tedros] repeatedly called top officials of many neighboring nations and pressured them to provide military and diplomatic support to the TPLF,” Andalou’s source alleged. “Those countries, which we cannot name, told us they declined Tedros’s requests, saying the conflict was an internal Ethiopian affair and they stand with us.”

Much as Ethiopian Army chief Berhanu would say two days later, the unnamed official accused Tedros of betraying his duties to W.H.O. by working as a “full-time diplomat of the TPLF” and said the Abiy government would soon dispatch “a protest note to the W.H.O. and other relevant bodies.”

A W.H.O. spokesman told Deutsche Welle on Thursday that the organization had no comment on the accusations leveled against its director-general. 

The Washington Post quoted W.H.O. Africa Regional Director Matshidiso Moeti defending Tedros against the charges, describing him as “somebody who is passionately promoting global health, promoting the good health of people and promoting peace, because it’s only in the context of peace that we can deliver good health for people.”

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