Tuesday, December 23, 2014 4:56 pm
An Ethiopian air force pilot has defected to Eritrea, flying a helicopter across the border with his co-pilot and a technician, Ethiopian state-run media said on Tuesday.
The three men had been missing since Friday morning soon after leaving their base on a routine training session, Ethiopian Television reported.
Eritrea and Ethiopia have been locked in a border dispute for years and routinely accuse each other of backing rebels trying to destabilise and topple the other’s government – a legacy from the two-year war they fought in the late 1990s.
“The military helicopter landed in Eritrea, flown by a traitor pilot who forced both his co-pilot and a technician while they took part in a training exercise,” the report said, citing a defence ministry statement.
An Eritrean blog site, www.raimoq.com revealed the identity of the pilot.
It named the pilot as Daniel Yeshewas, who it says has joined the ranks of deserters from Ethiopia.
“The desertion follows a string of high-profile military defections to Eritrea, including four Ethiopian helicopter pilots who defected last September.
The names of the pilots in that incident are Cap. Aklilu Mezene, Cap. Tilahun Tufa, Cap. Getu Worku and Cap. Biniam Gizaw.
No official from either side was available for comment, but reports from pro-Eritrean government outlets and those of opposition groups said the helicopter was an MI-35 gunship.
Ethiopia says the spat over the demarcation of their shared border following the 1998-2000 war would only be solved through a negotiated settlement.
Eritrea wants Ethiopia to pull its troops out before normalising relations, citing a decision by a Hague-based boundary commission which awarded it the flashpoint frontier village of Badme in 2002.