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On Wednesday, CNN revealed that the Ethiopian government had used its state-owned commercial carrier to transport weapons to and from neighboring Eritrea in the early weeks of the conflict. This is the first time that this arms trade between former enemies has been documented during the nearly yearlong war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region.

Responding to the investigation, a senior US administration official said: “These allegations are incredibly serious; not only could they constitute a potential violation of the Chicago Convention. [on international civil aviation]. The use of civilian planes to transport military equipment upsets standards and endangers passenger craft around the world. “

The official added that the United States would not refrain from using all the tools at its disposal to end a conflict that has sparked famine and left millions in desperate need of help – including the sanction of those responsible for the continuation of the conflict. .

“We have the capacity to impose sanctions and are ready to use them and other tools at our disposal against those who prolong the Tigray tragedy,” the official said.

The White House official’s comments come three weeks after President Joe Biden threatened to impose new general sanctions on Ethiopian officials and other parties to the conflict, unless they stop the fighting and open humanitarian access.

Ethiopian Airlines told CNN that it “strictly complies with all national, regional and international aviation regulations” and that “to the best of its knowledge and records, it did not carry any weapons of war. on any of its routes by any of its aircraft. “

But CNN used cargo documents and manifestos, along with eyewitness accounts and photographic evidence, to establish that weapons were transported between Addis Ababa International Airport and airports in the Eritrean cities of Asmara and from Massawa aboard several Ethiopian Airlines planes in November 2020.

The governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

In response to the latest CNN investigation, US Representative Tom Malinowski, a Democrat from New Jersey, called for Ethiopian Airlines and its executives to be “held accountable”, adding that he would support individual sanctions against the executives. from Ethiopian Airlines.

“If this is true, this is a very serious matter that goes far beyond our interest in ending violence in Ethiopia,” he said Wednesday in an interview with CNN.

Malinowski added that international rules that prohibit civilian airlines from carrying military equipment “are extremely important because if they are violated, they expose, they make it more likely that civilian planes will be fired in wartime.”

“So it puts everyone at risk. It undermines the standard that protects everyone who travels on international carriers,” he continued.

“I think the airline and potentially its executives should be held accountable,” said Malinowski. “It may require the imposition of fines, it may require individual sanctions against the executives of Ethiopian Airlines. This is not a trivial matter and it must be dealt with by the Biden administration quickly and firmly.”

Malinowski is leading an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) pushing the administration to determine whether genocide has taken place in Tigray. “I think that even the passing of the legislation sends a strong signal to the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments that their grace period is coming to an end,” he said.

UN Secretary-General criticizes Ethiopia for expulsion of its officials

CNN’s investigation offers new information on how Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed coordinated his offensive in Tigray with the help of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, a longtime enemy of Ethiopia until the two leaders sign a peace accord in 2018.

War between the Ethiopian army and forces loyal to the TPLF, which controls Tigray, erupted in November 2020. Within weeks, Eritrean soldiers reportedly crossed Tigray to aid Ethiopian troops. Eleven months later, the fighting left thousands dead, forced 2 million people to flee, fueled famine and sparked a wave of atrocities.

Although all parties have been accused by the UN of committing serious human rights abuses, previous CNN investigations have found that Eritrean soldiers were behind some of the worst abuses in Tigray, including sexual violence and massacres. Eritrea has denied the wrongdoing of its soldiers and refused to remove them from the region despite multiple calls for their removal.
Abiy, who was sworn in to a second term as prime minister on Monday, has been sentenced for his role in presiding over a protracted civil war which, according to numerous accounts, bears the hallmarks of genocide.
International criticism has grown over the role of the Ethiopian government and its allies in restricting critical humanitarian aid in Tigray.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Addis Ababa to grant the UN “unhindered” access to the region at a Security Council meeting on Wednesday.

It was the second emergency council meeting in a week to discuss the government’s expulsion of seven senior UN officials – mostly aid workers – amid a growing famine worsens in Tigray. The UN estimates that the conflict has left more than 5 million people in need of food aid and drove 400,000 to near starvation conditions, with an increasing number of hunger-related deaths.

“The country is facing a huge humanitarian crisis which demands immediate attention. All efforts must be focused on saving lives and avoiding a massive human tragedy,” Guterres said, calling the Ethiopian government’s decision “particularly disturbing “.

Guterres called on the Ethiopian authorities to allow the UN to provide humanitarian aid “unhindered and to facilitate and enable our work with the urgency this situation demands”, and criticized the country for not following the procedures formal.

“It is my duty to defend the honor of the United Nations,” Guterres told reporters Wednesday after the council meeting.

Ethiopia’s ouster of officials came just days after the UN aid chief warned hundreds of thousands were starving as a result of government blocking aid deliveries .

Reacting to the news last week, White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters that the United States condemns the deportations and will not refrain from using sanctions against any group obstructing the efforts. help.

“It has to stop,” Psaki said.

CNN’s Barbara Arvanitidis contributed to this report.

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