By Nima Elbagir, Gianluca Mezzofiore and Katie Polglase, CNN
The Biden administration called a CNN report that Ethiopian Airlines transported weapons to Eritrea as “incredibly serious” and warned it was prepared to impose sanctions on Ethiopia and any other party that prolongs it. the conflict in Tigray.
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 adheres to 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 to account”, 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 in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.
Malinowski added that international rules that prohibit civilian airlines from carrying military equipment “are extremely important because if violated, they expose, they make civilian planes more likely to come under fire in wartime.” .
“So that puts everyone at risk. It undermines the standard that protects everyone in the world traveling 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 leaders of Ethiopian Airlines. This is not a trivial matter and should 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 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.
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CNN’s Gianluca Mezzofiore, Katie Polglase, and Barbara Arvanitidis contributed to this report.