Ethiopian Airlines has denied the findings of an investigation by CNN alleging it used its planes to transport weapons to and from Eritrea during the Tigray conflict.
The CNN investigation cited “cargo documents and manifests,” and “eyewitness accounts and photographic evidence” that confirmed weapons were transported on Ethiopian Airlines planes between the international airport in Addis Ababa and Eritrean airports in Asmara and Massawa in November 2020.
On waybills examined by CNN, the news outlet found that “on at least six occasions — from November 9 to November 28 — Ethiopian Airlines billed Ethiopia’s ministry of defense tens of thousands of dollars for military items including guns and ammunition to be shipped to Eritrea.”
Terms and abbreviations including “Military refill,” “AM” for ammunition and “RIFFLES” (a misspelling of rifles) appeared on the waybills, according to the CNN investigation, which also cited interviews with airline employees who confirmed the terms.
If true, the claims are a violation of international aviation law, which prohibits using civilian aircraft to transport military weapons. It could also jeopardise Ethiopian Airlines’ membership in the lucrative Star Alliance, a group of 26 global airlines.
In response, Ethiopian Airlines told CNN 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.”
The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment on the story.
The Tigray conflict began in November 2020 when the Ethiopian government accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of attacking a federal military base. The TPLF is the northern region’s ruling party that had dominated national politics for decades.
In response, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent federal troops into Tigray for a military campaign against the TPLF.
For its part, the TPLF denied responsibility and said the reported attack was a pretext for an “invasion”, telling Al Jazeera it was the target of a “coordinated attack” by Ethiopia’s federal government and Eritrea.
Since then, the brutal war in Tigray has been marked by reports of massacres, rape and other abuses. It has killed thousands of people with nearly two million displaced and hundreds of thousands facing famine conditions.
Last week, United Nations humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths warned the conflict has pushed people to starvation, with more than 22 percent of people experiencing malnutrition in the Tigray region, forced to survive on leaves, roots and flowers. Griffiths called the situation a “stain on our conscience”.
Earlier in September, the UN had warned the humanitarian crisis in the northern region was set to “worsen dramatically”.
“Stocks of relief aid, cash and fuel are running very low or are completely depleted,” Grant Leaity, the UN’s acting humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, said in a statement on September 2, adding that food stocks had already run out on August 2.
“The region remains under a de facto humanitarian aid blockade, where access to bring life-saving humanitarian relief continues to be extremely restricted,” Leaity added, noting that no trucks had been able to enter Tigray since August 22.