5 Oct 2012
Two Eritrean officers defect to Saudi Arabia with the President’s jet
Note: This is my translation of the RFI news item Erythrée: deux officiers demandent l’asile politique en Arabie Saoudite à bord du jet privé du président, which appeared on the RFI website on Wednesday, 3 October 2012.
Eritrea: Two Officers Request Political Asylum in Saudi Arabia Aboard the President’s Private Jet
Two pilots of the Eritrean armed forces defected, on Tuesday, October 2, 2012, with their aircraft, to Saudi Arabia. Taken into custody by the Saudi authorities, they have since been held in secret. The two pilots fled with President Isaias Afewerki’s airplane.
Last August, the flag-bearer of the Eritrean team at the London Olympics never went back home to Eritrea. That defection must have annoyed the authorities in Asmara, but no doubt much less than what happened Tuesday morning: two captains in the Eritrean Air Force landed their aircraft, in fact, on the other side of the Red Sea, at the regional airport of Jizan, to be exact, in Saudi territory, before requesting political asylum in the Saudi kingdom.
This isn’t the first, or last, defection to come out of Eritrea, but just imagine the authorities’ surprise when they discovered that the aircraft in question was none other than the private jet belonging to President Isaias Afewerki.
The two Eritrean captains are thus not just anybody; they work directly for the head of state, and they participated, according to our colleague Léonard Vincent, in several secret missions, notably in Somalia, where they had transported military equipment on behalf of the Al Shabaab militias.
In other words, their defection is a godsend for the Saudi and American secret services, Washington having accused Asmara of sponsoring terrorism in the Horn of Africa. It is, no doubt, because of the extreme importance of these two men that General Habteselassie, the commander of the Eritrean Air Force, has been sent immediately to Saudi Arabia.