ADDIS ABABA/GENEVA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s military accused the World Health Organization (WHO) chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Thursday of supporting and trying to procure arms and diplomatic backing for Tigray state’s dominant political party, which is fighting federal forces.
“He himself is a member of that group and he is a criminal,” army chief of staff General Birhanu Jula said in a televised statement, before calling for him to be removed. Birhanu did not offer any evidence to support his accusations.
There was no immediate WHO comment on the allegation against Tedros, who is Ethiopian of Tigrayan ethnicity.
The accusations came at a time when the WHO is under considerable strain trying to coordinate global efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic after the United States, its biggest donor, froze funding over a spat involving China. Cases and deaths are rising again in many countries around the world.
Tedros served as Ethiopia’s health minister and foreign minister from 2005-2016 in a ruling coalition led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The TPLF effectively ruled Ethiopia for decades as the most powerful part of the coalition, until Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy took office in 2018.
Abiy has since folded the other three regional parties into his own national party, but the TPLF refused to join.
Birhanu accused Tedros of using his international platform to try to get diplomatic support and weapons for the TPLF.
“He has been doing everything to support them, he has campaigned to get the neighbouring countries to condemn the war. He has worked to facilitate weapons for them (the TPLF),” he said in a televised news conference.
“He tried to lobby people by using his international profile and mission to get support for the TPLF junta.”
Birhanu did not give further specifics.
Unverified accusations from Ethiopia are not enough to remove Tedros, 55, from his post. He was elected in May 2017 as the WHO’s first African director-general on a platform of promoting universal healthcare.
Earlier this year, President Donald Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the WHO in July 2021 – in line with U.S. law requiring a year’s notice – after accusing Tedros of not doing enough to hold China to account for what Trump described as initial attempts to cover up the COVID-19 outbreak.
Tedros has dismissed the suggestions, saying: “We are close to every nation, we are colour-blind.”
The United States was the biggest overall donor to the Geneva-based WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget.
Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Mark Heinrich