EU issues sanctions against airlines, including Ethiopian Airlines, for violating laws in country
Ethiopia used its flagship commercial airline to transport weapons during a brutal war with Eritrea that displaced thousands of civilians, according to a report by the UK-based Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Flight facilities were used by Ethiopian Airlines between late 2015 and July 2016 to transport anti-tank rockets, IEDs, tank parts and ammunition to military units active on the front lines, according to HRW, which released details of the report on Monday.
“At least seven of these aircraft were known to have been used by the military,” the report says. It says Ethiopian Airlines is “a world leader in using state-of-the-art aircraft for commercial activities” and cites the airline’s advertising to describe it as an “international flagship brand”.
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The human rights group said an Ethiopian Airlines flight used to transport anti-tank rockets back to Tigray from Eritrea in January 2016. A bombing of Ethiopia’s industrial city of Mekele by forces backed by Eritrea in July that year resulted in the displacement of at least 2,000 civilians, including over 1,000 children, HRW said.
In addition to the recent airlift of weapons, Ethiopian Airlines also facilitated weapons transfers using overnight flights to small terminals near Ethiopia’s border with Eritrea, HRW said.
In a separate report, HRW said that alongside humanitarian violations, Eritrea also committed crimes against humanity by arresting and killing civilians, torturing them and restricting their right to freedom of expression.
An Eritrean refugee attempts to cross the border with Ethiopia near Afar. The recent airlift of weapons also facilitated weapons transfers to small terminals near Ethiopia’s border with Eritrea, HRW said. Photograph: Desmond Butler/AP
One of the largest conflicts in Africa since the end of the cold war began in 1998 when border disputes escalated. The conflict came close to erupting into war in 2001 when Eritrea took gunboats to attack a merchant ship, resulting in the capture of over 130 pro-government Ethiopian seamen.
The Ethiopian government accused Eritrea of shooting the ship and killing 20 civilians in the attack. Eritrea denies it was responsible.
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Since then, the two countries have been engaged in a long-running war in which tens of thousands of people have died, millions have been displaced and several districts have been split up.
After the war the Eritrean government has constantly sought a peace settlement but Ethiopia has faced opposition from the US and the European Union over similar past peace attempts, including a 2002 and 2012 border demarcation.
Ethiopia reached an agreement to drop its rival bid to join the African Union and forge a peace agreement with Eritrea earlier this month.
Ethiopia’s defence ministry said it does not know the results of the research which it described as a fake research that “poses a huge risk to peace and security not only in the region but around the world”.