Ethiopia’s national airline used planes to transport weapons

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Air Marshal Taye Hailu repeatedly asked Moscow for weapons and the planes had still been sold as far afield as Latvia

Ethiopia used its flagship commercial airline to transport weapons, munitions and ammunition during a brutal three-year war in Ethiopia’s minority south-western Ogaden region, according to a report on Monday by the country’s domestic news agency.

Ethiopia claims it was defending its border against the Ogaden National Liberation Front when it launched the offensive in 2004, with troops “fighting terrorism”.

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But rights groups say Ethiopian troops have used indiscriminate force against civilians, which rights monitors have called genocide.

The Ethiopian government has repeatedly rejected claims that its troops were committing war crimes and abuses.

The International Crisis Group report revealed that the country’s national airline fleet flew arms and ammunition to the Ogaden via Bangkok in flights with the registration numbers TOW IY, TOW II and TOW IV.

Ethiopia’s national airline planes flew weapons from Russia to the Ogaden, according to the International Crisis Group report. Photograph: AP

“If a human rights offence occurs on a TOW aircraft the case will be investigated,” the report said.

The report quoted Tewolde GebreMariam, the head of the national airline, who told the International Crisis Group that he’d stopped flying the planes for eight years in 2010 after being advised to “follow the example of Saudi Arabia”.

Air Marshal Taye Hailu was also reported as saying that a Boeing 737-200 aircraft the government had assigned to transport guns had already been sold to Latvia.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch put out a joint report saying Ethiopian troops raped young women and girl and killed farmers as well as forcing others to steal or work on the grounds of military installations.

On Monday a spokesman for Ethiopia’s government said some of the conclusions of the report were “misleading” and that there was no military attack on the Ogaden region.

The spokesman, Tewolde Mekonnen, said the territory had been invaded by Eritrea and the Ethiopian army was keeping that country from an invasion of Ethiopia.

“An attack against the Ogaden region was totally false and baseless,” Mekonnen said.

According to Amnesty, at least 170 people were killed and more than 10,000 were abducted in the three-year offensive which ended in February 2006. A UN peacekeeping force still monitor in the region as a buffer.

Despite accusations of human rights abuses and election fraud, Ethiopia has boosted its relations with the west and is recognised as an emerging African powerhouse by some analysts.

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