WHO Chief Denies Backing Dissident Region in Ethiopia

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus denied aiding Ethiopia’s dissident Tigray region after the country’s army accused him of taking sides and helping secure weapons for its fighters.

“There have been reports suggesting I am taking sides in this situation,” Tedros said in a statement late Thursday. “This is not true and I want to say that I am on only one side and that is the side of peace.”

Chief of Staff General Birhanu Jula alleged Tedros used his position to lobby foreign governments to support the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Birhanu didn’t provide evidence to back up his claims. Tedros has served as a member of the politburo of the TPLF, which governs the Tigray region.

“He has been campaigning in our neighboring countries asking them to oppose, condemn the war,” Birhanu told reporters Wednesday in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. “He has worked to get them weapons, he has used his UN appointment as an opportunity to lobby and convince people to support the TPLF junta. He will not be successful.”

The government is “not happy” with lobbying by Tedros and is discussing how to approach the issue, Redwan Hussein, Ethiopia’s state minister of foreign affairs and spokesman for the government’s Emergency Task Force, told reporters in Addis Ababa.

Asked to respond to the army’s comments, Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, defended Tedros’s record in his role as the UN body’s director-general.

‘Promoting Peace’

“I know him as somebody who is passionately promoting global health, promoting the good health of people, and promoting peace,” she said in the Congo Republic capital, Brazzaville. “I think it’s only in the context of peace that we can have the type of development that delivers good health for people.”

Hundreds of people have died and thousands have been displaced since Ethiopian soldiers began attacking Tigray on Nov. 4 after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed blamed the region’s government for a raid on a federal army base.

Relations between Tigray and Abiy’s administration have been strained since he took office in 2018 and began consolidating power and sidelining the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which controlled the nation’s ruling coalition for two decades.

Tedros, 55, was elected to serve as WHO director-general in 2017. His candidacy was rejected by some Ethiopians, who criticized the human rights record of the TPLF, which controlled Ethiopia’s ruling coalition party from 1991 until 2018.

“My heart breaks for my home, Ethiopia, and I call on all parties to work for peace and to ensure the safety of civilians and access for health and humanitarian assistance to those in need,” Tedros said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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