Ethiopia air carrier ‘trafficked arms’

BBC Africa

(Photo: Tim Gates/BBC)

Ethiopia will face weapons charges for the first time after a report revealed that the country’s flag carrier transported arms into conflict areas.

The report, carried by the Mail & Guardian, an international newspaper based in Johannesburg, South Africa, says Kefaya Airlines bought arms from Russia and smuggled them into the north, where war raged with separatist rebels.

The subsidiary of Ethiopian Airlines, formally called Ethiopian Transports, moved weapons used to attack villages in Amhara Region, the paper reported.

The paper says from the airport of the capital, Addis Ababa, the planes carried a regular passenger flight, but there was no sign of the cargo.

One of the planes carried two 20 tonnes tonnes of ammunition. The plane had a licence issued by the Directorate of Arms and Military Transformations of Russia.

The report alleges that from September 2011, planes from the carrier transported four types of weapons: anti-aircraft Katyusha rockets, machine guns, Kalashnikov assault rifles and high-calibre ammunition to the region.

There is also evidence, it adds, that Russian troops stationed in the area were delivering weapons and equipment from Russian arms exporters.

Russia has denied the allegations.

Airports security

The Ethiopian foreign ministry, in a brief statement, condemned the allegations, and said it had set up a committee to investigate.

It called on the Ethiopian Air Transport Association (EATA) to take corrective measures to ensure that such actions did not recur.

The ministry was responding to the official news agency, Afpress, which described the charges as “groundless, confusing and unfounded”.

An airport spokesman at Addis Ababa airport told the BBC that it took security seriously, and guns were not allowed to be transported through the airport without clearance.

Tim Gates, of the Mail & Guardian, said he stood by his report.

“The newspaper can stand by the integrity of our report,” he said.

“What’s concerning about the affair is the unprecedented nature of the details.

“It’s quite extraordinary to actually know that the second most used airline in Africa was alleged to be involved in this sort of activity.”

Mr Gates, the editor-in-chief of Mail & Guardian, also pointed out that the Ethiopian government had often come under criticism for its military involvement in neighbouring countries.

In February, Ethiopia’s air force bombed its Tigrayan neighbour, Eritrea, as it accused the government of neighbouring Eritrea of planning a strike on one of its towns.

The government maintains that Eritrea invaded its territory a year ago. Eritrea has said the claims are a fabrication.

Ethiopia’s airspace, which is controlled by the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Authority, is regularly monitored by its neighbours.

The relationship between the Tigrayans and the Tigrayan government has always been contentious.

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