Ethiopia’s army today accused WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of backing dissident forces in his war-torn home region of Tigray.
Army chief Berhanu Jula claimed that Tedros was securing political and military support for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as it fights an armed offensive by Ethiopia’s government.
‘He has worked in neighbouring countries to condemn the war. He has worked for them to get weapons,’ Berhanu told a press conference, claiming that Tedros had ‘left no stone unturned’ to help the TPLF.
‘This guy is himself part of that team,’ said Berhanu. ‘What do you expect from him? We don’t expect he will side with the Ethiopian people and condemn [the TPLF].’
Tedros is a former Ethiopian health minister and the most high-profile Tigrayan abroad, who served in Tigrayan-dominated government before the TPLF’s three-decade hold on power was ended by the appointment of PM Abiy Ahmed in 2018.
Abiy, the winner of last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, accuses the TPLF of destabilising his government and is targeting the group in a military offensive.
The WHO’s director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus (pictured) was today accused of supporting dissidents in his war-torn home region in Ethiopia
Tedros has yet to respond to the army’s claims, which come during the coronavirus pandemic which has vaulted the WHO chief to unprecedented global prominence.
Raised in Tigray, he served as Ethiopia’s health minister from 2005 to 2012 before being elected WHO director-general in 2017.
The Tigrayan-led government had dominated politics since rebels from their region spearheaded the toppling of Marxist military rule in 1991, but the TPLF has been in opposition since 2018.
The UN has warned of ‘a full-blown humanitarian crisis’ as aid organisations negotiate with the government to gain full access to Tigray.
Now in its third week, the controversial military operation which Abiy says is essential to restore law and order in the country has left hundreds dead and sent thousands streaming over the border with Sudan.
Both sides claimed military successes on Wednesday, creating a muddied picture of fighting even as the government promised it would soon be over.
Army chief Berhanu said his forces were ‘winning on all fronts’ and claimed the TPLF was ‘in a state of desperation.’
‘The TPLF’s plan to drag Ethiopia into civil war and tear it apart has failed. It is currently in a desperate mode as it is surrounded,’ Berhanu said.
But Tigrayan leader Debretsion Gebremichael said in a statement that ‘we’re inflicting heavy defeats on all fronts against the forces that came to attack us’.
‘I call upon all the Tigrayan people to go out en masse to drive out the invaders,’ he added.
Tigray is under a communications blackout after the PM ordered military operations there on November 4, making it hard to get a clear view of the hostilities.
The federal police on Wednesday announced arrest warrants for 76 army officers, some retired, accused of conspiring with the TPLF and ‘committing treason’.
Ethiopian militia fighters take up arms as they prepare to fight alongside government forces against Tigrayan dissidents in Ethiopia
Sudan has reported 36,000 people have now streamed across its borders to escape the violence in Ethiopia.
Abiy says the military campaign is in response to TPLF attacks on federal military camps, but it followed tensions in September when Tigray held its own elections despite a nationwide ban because of coronavirus.
Hundreds of combatants are said to have died, but casualty totals so far are rough estimates.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Ethiopian aid workers ‘transported hundreds of people injured in areas affected by clashes.’
The organisation said hospitals in Tigray and neighbouring Amhara region ‘urgently need hospital beds, mattresses, blankets and bedsheets.’
On Tuesday Abiy announced that ‘in the coming days, the final law enforcement activities will be done.’
His government later claimed to be marching on the regional capital, Mekele, and to hold the town of Mehoni 80 miles to the south.
The TPLF over the weekend fired rockets at the airport in the Eritrean capital Asmara, heightening fears Ethiopia’s conflict could draw in the wider Horn of Africa region.
Federal forces say they already control Tigray’s western zone, which saw heavy fighting at the start of the conflict.
But diplomats say it is far from clear that federal forces can secure a swift victory, especially as fighting shifts from lowlands to more mountainous terrain.
The TPLF has considerable military assets and an estimated 250,000 troops, including a paramilitary force and local militia. Ethiopia’s military is estimated at 150,000 troops, a figure that does not include special forces and militias.