19 November 2020

Ethiopia accuses WHO chief of backing defiant Tigray region

19 November 2020

Ethiopia’s government has accused the head of the World Health Organisation of lobbying neighboring countries to aid the rebellious Tigray regional government with arms and other support.

General Birhanu Jula, Ethiopia’s army chief, told reporters that Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a fellow Ethiopian had urged unnamed neighbours to “oppose the war and for (the Tigray People’s Liberation Front) to get arms”.

The army chief did not provide any evidence to support his claims.

The TPLF has been clashing with Ethiopian federal forces for two weeks after the country’s prime minister accused the heavily armed regional government of attacking a military base. Each government regards the other as illegal after a months-long falling-out amid political reforms.

The army chief accused Dr Tedros, formerly a foreign minister when the TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s ruling coalition, of being a member of the TPLF.

Gen Birhanu added: “What do you expect of a person like him?”

Ethiopian refugees in Sudan (AP)

WHO Africa chief Matshidiso Moeti defended Dr Tedros during a Covid-19 briefing but did not address the allegation directly.

She told reporters: “What I can say in response is that I know Tedros.

“I know him as somebody who is passionately promoting global health, promoting the good health of people and promoting peace.

“I think this is (the) extent of my knowledge of Tedros as a person.”

For more, she referred to his office.

The Tigray region remains largely cut off from the world with communications and transport links severed, making it difficult to verify either side’s claims about what is happening there. No one knows how many people have been killed, and some 30,000 refugees have streamed into Sudan.

Ethiopian officials, and Tigrayan ones, have issued a torrent of allegations in the conflict, often without providing evidence, in an effort to win the narrative war as well and garner support for their side. Governments and human rights groups alike have urged the swift restoration of communications links to Tigray, and no limits on media, to allow for more transparency.

As Ethiopia’s health minister, Dr Tedros was widely credited with implementing training for tens of thousands of health workers, strengthening the country’s laboratory network and reducing deaths from Aids, tuberculosis and malaria.

But during his campaign to become the WHO’s director general, he was accused by a prominent US public health academic of covering up three cholera outbreaks in Ethiopia while he was health minister. At the time, Dr Tedros dismissed the allegations as “a last-minute smear campaign”.

International health law obliges countries to report cholera outbreaks to the WHO, but some countries avoid doing so, fearing it will trigger harmful trade and travel bans.

Human rights groups have also raised concerns about the fact that Dr Tedros served in a government widely criticised for its oppressive tactics, including violent crackdowns on protesters and imprisoning rivals.

Dr Tedros has acknowledged that the government has made some serious mistakes but that Ethiopia is a “nascent democracy”.

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