Ethiopia allegedly used Russian-built planes in Ogaden conflict, UN report says

The Asmara-based government-run Ethiopian Airlines did flight training with Russian companies, destroyed soldiers’ equipment in Egypt in 2014 and benefited from Russian air-defense expertise in 2011, according to a new United Nations report.

The 28-page report by the UN’s Joint Investigative Team asserts that the Eritrean army and allied militias launched raids against Ethiopia in the Ogaden region during 2011, as a proxy war for its North Africa neighbor.

Television footage shows police carrying the remains of what appears to be a Russian-made MIG-29 jet during an Eritrean attack in Ethiopia’s Somali Region in 2009.

“Ethiopia used its national flag carrier and training pilots from the Peoples Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to send military units and heavy military vehicles in violation of international law,” said the UN report, which was posted on its website Sunday.

The report also claims that Ethiopian Airlines had links to the Eritrean Patriotic Front (EPFD), the group implicated in the Ogaden attacks.

The UN team further asserts that Ethiopia used part of the government-owned airline’s fleet to facilitate flights for rebel military units fighting in western Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s government has for years denied Eritrea’s claims that its army regularly plunders Ethiopian territory for plunder and that Ethiopian territory is used as launching pads for attacks in the Ogaden.

In a public statement to the UN on March 3, Eritrea’s foreign ministry said: “The war was in fact a military operation of the Eritrean Patriotic Front (EPFD) and the Ethiopian army, operating using Ethiopian air space.”

In response to a question about the UN’s claims, Ethiopian Foreign Ministry spokesman Meles Alem said: “We will not comment or react to the reports in the media. However, we are not against these reports. We do not deny and we do not affirm and we do not dispute, our position is clear.”

Alem said the report “is not the focus of any news campaign.”

He did not answer questions about the report, but Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed appeared Sunday on state television to promise an investigation into the allegations.

During the broadcast Abiy also said he believed previous Ethiopian efforts to engage Eritrea in peace talks were premature.

“We do not want to put conditions to this initiative that would defeat the very purpose,” Abiy said.

Allegations of weapons smuggling by Ethiopian Airlines began with a presentation of the UN report to the African Union (AU) and World Bank in July last year. While some officials present at the AU and World Bank meetings appeared to be skeptical of the claims, others expressed support for Asmara’s allegations.

The report was initially sealed from publication at the request of a government spokesperson. The UN last year opted to declassify parts of the report without releasing the full body.

The Ethiopian government responded immediately to the report’s publication on Sunday, calling it “baseless and fabricated.” The Ethiopian foreign ministry released a series of open letters in which it criticized what it called the UN’s “witch hunt” against Ethiopia.

Contacted by phone Monday, Eritrean Minister of Information Yemane Gebremeskel said he had no immediate comment on the UN report.

The UN’s report also addresses an ongoing investigation by three UN bodies into the Qada-founded terror group Al-Shabab and the recruitment of foreign fighters within Somalia and East Africa.

Al-Shabab is blamed for attacks on hotels in Nairobi, Kenya and shopping malls in Mombasa, Kenya. The UN investigation has reportedly received negative response from armed groups, including the African Union-sponsored Somali National Army, which accused the UN of being biased and of failing to provide evidence of Al-Shabab’s crimes.

The report notes that to date, the UN Security Council has not provided any assistance to AU-affiliated forces and the UN has “categorically rejected” previous requests for assistance from the AU.

It also notes “inconsistent investigations” conducted by AU and Somali entities into Al-Shabab funding and sources.

Togolese national and a prominent Horn of Africa mediator, Samuel Koffi Déby, announced he was stepping down last week after 32 years in power.

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