Ethiopian Airlines has been accused of transporting weapons from Ethiopia to Eritrea during the civil war in Tigray. The allegations, if proven true, could have devastating commercial ramifications for Africa’s largest and most profitable airline.
Ethiopian Airlines Allegedly Used To Transport Weapons To Eritrea During Tigray Civil War
A CNN Exclusive lays out the case, which includes interviews with former employees, images, cargo manifests, and air waybills. In short:
- On November 4, 2020, the Ethiopian government accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking a federal army base and ordered a military offensive to remove the TPLF from power.
- As conflict broke out in Tigray, the Ethiopian government sent arms to neighboring Eritrea, who joined with Ethiopian forces to suppress the uprising.
- Documents and photos reveal weapons and other armaments were sent from Addis Abba to Asmara and Massawa on secret flights that eluded radar detection.
- Transporting weapons for military use on civil aircraft violates international aviation law.
- If the weaponry was used to commit atrocities, as the TPLF has alleged, Ethiopian Airlines stands to lose preferred access to the U.S. market under the terms of a lucrative trade deal.
Ethiopian Airlines has denied the incident, stating it “strictly complies with all national, regional and international aviation related regulations” and that “to the best of its knowledge and its records, it has not transported any war armament in any of its routes by any of its aircraft.”
This latest statement marks a step back from an earlier statement unequivocally denying it transported weapons during the conflict.
Air waybills, which are document that accompanies goods shipped by an international air courier to provide detailed information about the shipment and allow it to be tracked, demonstrated that equipment shipped included guns, ammunition, and even specially-armored vehicles.
A former Ethiopian Airlines cargo worker told CNN:
“The cars were Toyota pickups which have a stand for snipers. I got a call from the managing director late at night informing me to handle the cargo. Soldiers came at 5 a.m. to start loading two big trucks loaded with weapons and the pickups.
“I had to stop a flight to Brussels, a 777 cargo plane, which was loaded with flowers, then we unloaded half of the perishable goods to make space for the armaments.”
The vehicles were full of gasoline, which is not allowed under international air transport rules. Nevertheless, the cargo workers was overruled when he pushed back on loading these vehicles:
“He aid we are going to war and we need the fuel to be loaded. Then I referred the issue to my manager and my manager took responsibility and allowed them to load it.”
These special arms flights were always assigned the same flight numbers, ET3312, ET3313 and ET3314. Flight tracking data shows them taking off, but then disappearing off the radar when approaching Eritrea.
Ethiopian employees noted the ADS-B signal could be manually shut off to prevent the flights from being tracked publicly.
To be clear, it has not been established yet that Ethiopian Airlines used commercial aircraft for these operations. But the CNN report is extensive and allegations are damning. While this story is just breaking, if Ethiopian Airlines is implicated for transporting arms in a bloody civil war some call a genocide, it may face sanctions and blockades that will severely impact its ability to recover from the pandemic.