- Eritrean Su-27 Flankers at a base in Asmara. (Source: madote.com)
Friday, November 15, 2013
Eritrean air force members defect to Saudi Arabia with military plane - Sudan Tribune: Plural news and views on Sudan
November 14, 2013 (ADDIS ABABA) – Three members of the Eritrean air force defected on Tuesday by flying a military aircraft to Saudi Arabia becoming the latest defectors from the secretive Horn of African nation.
According to Saudi Arabia media outlets, the Eritrean air force plane was forced by Saudi F-15 fighter jets to land at King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz Airport in Jazan after it entered the gulf nation’s airspace without permission.
The three Eritrean air force members have asked for political asylum in Saudi Arabia.
In the past few years, dozens of pilots and members of the navy have defected to neighbouring countries.
This is not the first time for Eritrean air force members to defect to the kingdom.
Last year, two Eritrean military pilots secretly flew President Isaias Afewerki’s plane to Saudi Arabia where they sought political asylum.
In April, the female Eritrean air force pilot sent by Asmara to retrieve the stolen jet from Saudi Arabia herself defected.
An Eritrean opposition official in Addis Ababa on Thursday said that the defection of the air force members - who had the ranks of Captain and lieutenant - indicates the level of dissatisfaction within the Eritrean military.
"The defection of the three air force officers is a big blow to president Isaias’ government”, Ibrahim Haron, leader of Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization (RSADO) told Sudan Tribune.
“It is a clear sign of growing discontent of the air force personnel against the brutal dictatorial regime”, he added.
Haron said the repeatedly occurring defections from the army, navy and air force, as well as the mutiny this January by dissident soldiers who briefly took over the information ministry in Asmara, are signs that the regime’s over-two-decade of grip on power was coming to an end.
Since Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993, president Afewerki has turned the nation into a one-party state.
The reclusive Red Sea nation has one the world’s worst records in terms of human rights and press freedom.
The country is Africa’s foremost jailer of journalists and is known by some human rights groups as a “giant prison”. The tiny nation is believed to be home to up to 10,000 political prisoners.
Every month, thousands of Eritreans immigrate to neighbouring countries to flee political oppression.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) representative in Ethiopia on Thursday said Eritrean refugees are continuing to cross borders to Ethiopia in large numbers.
"An average 1,200 Eritreans cross to Ethiopia every month” Kisut Gebreegziabher, UNHCR Senior Public Information Associate, told Sudan Tribune.
Kisut added that the number of Eritrean children who are fleeing to Ethiopia has seen an increase in recent months, rising to 50. Most he the arrive unaccompanied, he said.
Some arrivals are “as young as eight years” and are being treated differently from the adults owing to their vulnerability, the UN official said.
The UNHCR official said it has been difficult to provide the children a proper care or to attach them with their relatives elsewhere.
Currently, according to UNHCR, there are nearly 80,000 Eritrean refugees sheltered in six camps in Ethiopia’s Tigray and Afar regional states bordering Eritrea making up the second largest refugee population in Ethiopia after Somalis who top the list with over 240,000 refugees sheltered in eight camps.