Ethiopia’s flagship airline used to transport weapons, pilots allege

The Ethiopian Airlines became the plane to transport weapons during the two-year war in the Tigray region between Ethiopia and Eritrea

Ethiopia used its flagship commercial airline to transport weapons during the two-year war in the Tigray region between Ethiopia and Eritrea, according to an Ethiopian captain and a former fighter pilot from Eritrea.

Captain Adam Taoka said he flew a Lockheed L-15 for Ethiopian Airlines on two occasions to transport weapons from border camps of the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF) to the Eritrean People’s Liberation Front (EPLF-EGLF) troops stationed in the Tigray region.

He said he became aware of the arms trade on 19 September 1996 when he flew a Khumbu flight from the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to Eritrea capital Asmara. That flight carried troops, weapons and ammunition intended for the Ethiopian army and the EPLF, he said.

Adam travelled to the border region a second time in August 1998 for what he believed was another Khumbu flight. But he later found out it was a Chieftain Red Star flight transporting weapons to Eritrea.

The role of the airline in transporting weapons to the Eritrean army was first made public in 2003, but details were blacked out. One witness and an Ethiopian official confirmed Adam’s statements.

Ethiopian Airlines is part-owned by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), an armed rebel group that has been waging war in Tigray for several decades. While the group has gained control of major parts of Tigray, it is still fighting to take the region’s capital, Asmara.

The civil war is the second longest war in modern Ethiopian history, and has claimed tens of thousands of lives since the early 1990s.

Ethiopia’s fight with Eritrea: ‘We feared the long arm of the African Union’ Read more

The conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea spilled over into the international community when Eritrea invaded and took control of the towns of Badme and Gashgila in June 1998. In response, Ethiopia sent forces into Asmara.

The two countries fought a bloody war that ended in 2000 and gave Eritrea full sovereignty.

The international community called on both sides to negotiate a peace deal. In 2000, the African Union brokered a fragile peace agreement that paved the way for a rapprochement between the two countries.

Both governments, however, keep a reputation for brutal crackdowns and human rights abuses.

Ethiopia imposed economic sanctions on Eritrea in 2001 after refusing to abide by a UN resolution calling for its border to be demarcated.

The former Eritrean fighter pilot and the Ethiopian captain said the two government’s policy of trade bans is more to pressure the Eritrean government than to punish it.

“This is not the policy of the EPRDF [party], it is not the policy of the Ethiopian government. But for some reason the international community thinks these two parties’ policy is the same,” said the former pilot.

After Ethiopia imposed economic sanctions, it offered Eritrea $200m to return to a normalised relationship. The Eritrean government rejected the offer, saying the money was for a “bloody war” and would not affect economic relations.

Ethiopia ended sanctions in January this year.

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