Ethiopia accuses WHO chief of backing defiant Tigray region

An Ethiopian woman who fled war in the northern Tigray region carries her food ration as others queue at the Um Rakoba camp on the Sudan Ethiopia border Sudan 19 November 2020

An Ethiopian woman who fled war in the northern Tigray region carries her food ration as others queue at the Um Rakoba camp on the Sudan Ethiopia border Sudan 19 November 2020

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of people have died since Ethiopian government troops launched a war two weeks ago in northern Tigray state against regional authorities they accused of staging a surprise attack on federal forces.

"As we enter the final phase of law enforcement operations against this group, we would like to remind the leaders of this group that the atrocities that have been committed by their forces and loyalists in places like Maykadra constitute serious crimes both under Ethiopian and worldwide law", the statement said, using an alternative spelling.

Ethiopia has denied TPLF claims that Eritrean soldiers are directly involved in the conflict.

Amhara communications official, Gizachew Muluneh, said the three TPLF rockets had all missed their targets, resulting in neither casualties nor damage with two rockets striking near the airport and a third hitting a maize field.

The government has accused the TPLF of destroying four bridges leading into Mekele.

There was no immediate response from World Health Organization headquarters.

It dramatically escalated his long-running feud with the TPLF, an organisation that dominated Ethiopian politics for almost three decades before Abiy took office in 2018.

The party has complained about being sidelined under Abiy, and scapegoated for the country's woes. The TPLF sees the central government as illegitimate, arguing Mr Abiy no longer has a mandate to lead the country.

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The UN fears the numbers fleeing Ethiopia may be just a fraction of those forced from their homes by the fighting, but for the moment aid agencies have no access to the Tigray region.

Officials from the United States on Thursday said they had urged de-escalation from both Abiy and the TPLF leadership, but saw little prospect for negotiations.

Ethiopia's army chief on Thursday accused World Health Organization (WHO) boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus - the country's highest-profile Tigrayan overseas - of lobbying for and seeking to arm leaders in the conflict-torn dissident region.

Abiy has insisted the military operation's narrow target is the "reactionary and rogue" members of the TPLF, and not ordinary Tigrayan civilians.

But observers have voiced concern about Tigrayans losing their jobs or being arrested for their ethnicity. "He has worked for them to get weapons", said Berhanu, without offering evidence to support the claims. "This is not true and I want to say that I am on only one side and that is the side of peace".

Abiy, last year's Nobel Peace Prize victor, announced the military campaign in Tigray on November 4, saying it was in response to TPLF attacks on federal military camps. "This UAV is however inside the air force, that we operate from here".

A communications blackout means it is hard to verify the competing claims and the picture of the state of play on the ground remains confused.

The conflict has killed hundreds, sent 30,000 refugees into neighbouring Sudan, and called into question whether Africa's youngest leader Abiy Ahmed can hold together the fractious ethnic groups in Africa's second most populous nation ahead of national elections next year.

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