Ethiopia’s state-owned flag carrier may have been used by the military to transport weapons during the years of conflict in the Tigray region in the north of the country, according to the US Senate sanctions report on Ethiopia.
As a potential violation of sanctions against Addis Ababa, this incident was buried in a much longer annex, which merely said that the US government was aware that the country’s state-owned flag carrier Aviation Addis Ababa International had been involved in transporting military equipment.
After months of scrutiny in the US, including the release of a documentary by the United States Network for Africa, Airmiles Report, Ethiopia Airlines was given a clean bill of health by the US Treasury Department last week after inspectors found no clear evidence of human rights violations or corruption. It was given a clean bill of health by the Civil Aviation Authority, which is meant to be the main safeguard against what the US deems as the nation’s human rights record.
“Because of the suspicious nature of the evidence disclosed, therefore, the report was delayed to allow time for sufficient investigative oversight of AMIA by US and Ethiopian law enforcement agencies and civil aviation oversight to take place,” according to the report which was released on 7 August. “As of 8 August 2018, no report or additional evidence has been obtained that has proven that AMIA used its facility or fleet to facilitate the delivery of restricted war materiel.”
As well as the sales of bullets, war clubs and landmines, the United States began investigating whether Ethiopia was fuelling its army with arms and ammunition.
In Ethiopia, the existence of Army Aviation’s air traffic control has long been known to the country’s military. Witnesses claimed that the Ethiopian forces based in the region routinely used ground-based airfields to land large transports to ferry arms.
Since the war in the Tigray region in the early 1990s, there have been instances where Ethiopian forces used the “port of Djibouti” and in one case the “port of Addis Ababa” to airlift weapons and supplies to the region.
The aircraft that Ethiopia flew the military on were Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737s with the registration numbers ET-BUJ and ET-GUZ.
Ethiopia has been one of America’s main allies in a new US foreign policy programme known as “alliance diplomacy”, which has been designed to expand America’s economic ties to Africa.
But the US, which Ethiopia sits on the important Horn of Africa power triangle between the two countries, has grown concerned at the erosion of its influence in Africa’s fastest growing economy.
A spokesman for Ethiopian Airlines said the report was “made by some misguided individuals who have no understanding of aviation, commercial aviation or Ethiopian Airlines”.
“Ethiopian Airlines has been and remains committed to complying with the norms of the international aviation regulatory bodies,” the spokesman said.
Another article of the sanctions legislation requires the US government to report on each state within six months of becoming a full member of the World Trade Organisation.