By Neamin Zeleke | May 19, 2008
A military tribunal recently sentenced four Ethiopian Air Force pilots to death. The pilots who sought a political asylum in 2007 and were tried in absentia are Captain Samuel Getachew, Lt. Haimanot Gebre-Mariam, Lt. Fikre-Selassie Feleke, and Lt.
the whereabouts of two Ethiopian pilots remained unknown nearly three years after Djibouti handed them back to the Zenawi regime. The two pilots, Lt. Behailu Gebre and Lt. Abiyot Mangudai, were reportedly tortured following their forced return from Djibouti. They had fled to the neighboring country after disobeying government orders to fire on crowds who were protesting over the stolen 2005 elections. Senior Ethiopian writer Neamin Zeleke has the details:
Yitbarek Takele. Meanwhile Credible sources inside the TPLF-controlled Defense establishment have recently disclosed that the regime appointed court martial has passed a death sentence verdict on four Air Force pilots who decided to seek asylum in 2007 while on a training overseas. According to the sources, a TPLF appointed court martial at the Air Force has passed a “guilty” verdict and a death sentence in absentia on Captain Samuel Getachew, Lt. Himanot Gebre Mariam, Lt. Fikre-Selassie Feleke, and Lt. Yitibarek Takele.
At present, the four officers in exile are anxiously waiting for a speedy resettlement to another country. As well known, the regime’s military machinery has been plagued with series of defections from within its various branches and ranks. During the last several years, senior officers such as generals, colonels, lt. colonels, as well as scores of junior officers, NCOs, and privates within the TPLF controlled and led military, including once known as one of the best in Africa, the now tattered Air Force have fled the country seeking asylum in various countries.
It is also to be recalled that few weeks after the fraudulent national election of 2005 and the terror and blood bath that was unleashed by Meles Zenawi special security forces against unarmed Ethiopians who were peacefully protesting the massive electoral fraud at the time, Lt. Behailu Gebre and Lt. Abiyot Mangudai fled to Djibouti, flying a Fighter Chopper. Ethiopians made an organized and vigorous attempt to rescue these gallant officers away from clear and present danger they faced while they remained in Djibouti. Reversing the initial promise it gave to provide them with protection, the Government of President Omar Gulleh engaged in flagrant violation of all international conventions and protocols that accord protection and status to political refugees. It conspired in a kidnapping operation by special security sent for such a nefarious mission by Meles Zenawi himslef. As reported back then by credible sources, after their forceful return, Lt Behailu and Lt Abiyot were subjected to cruel and inhuman condition, being tortured somewhere within the Air force Base at Debre Zeit. To this date the exact status of both officers — dead or alive — remain unknown to their loved ones and friends.
While these gallant sons of Ethiopia—who boldly opted to flee the county rather than be a willing killing machine to the regime—were subjected to the cruel fate of falling in the hands of a brutal and vengeful torturers, scores of other Air force pilots who fled the country, including veterans such as Captain Teshome Tenkolu and eight pilots who were on a training in the Eastern European Slavic country of Belarus, have managed to resettle in western European countries where their lives are now protected and far away form the very sad and cruel fate befallen on Lt Behilu and Lt Abiyot.
Just about a year ago, Maj. General Alemshet Degefe, the Commander of the Air force and his deputies were stripped of all power and privilege after an apparent fall out with the leaders of the TPLF/EPRDF. In what appears to be yet a blatant continuation of more of the same minority ethnic elite monopoly over the commanding heights of Defense forces, as in all facets of national life in today’s Ethiopia, several weeks ago Gen Molla, a Tigrayan, has been appointed as the commander of the Air force. Others such as Siyoum Hagos in charge of the Western command , Yohannes Gebremeskel in Charge of The Central Command and Military Intelligence, and many other TPLF Politico-Military cadres were also appointed and given promotion of rank and power to head the key and commanding heights at the Defense Ministry—military intelligence, operations , training, and all of the commands—north, eastern, western, and southern. Samora Yunus, a TPLF CC member , still remains the Chief of Staff. Although , Aba Dulla Gemeda, the OPDO boss, has the Minster of Defense portfolio, he remains a token in the decision making of both matters of policy and operations of the TPLF controlled Defense Ministry.
For all its pretensions with masks of potency and cohesion , the regime’s military continues to face serious discontent , disaffection, resentment and demoralization, in part due to lack of a merit based system and professionalism that have been taken over with criteria of ethnicity and political loyalty, the very hall marks of the regime and the ruling party since its inception. Thus , leading to periodic and numerous defections from the ranks of the military.
To top it all, the misguided policies on all fronts and repression carried by the minority dictatorship of the TPFL/EPRDF regime has not left the military apparatus immune from a pervasive discontent and simmering resentment due to the mounting socio –economic hardships and grinding poverty facing the overwhelming majority of Ethiopians. While Ethiopia continues to be the proverbial “Tale of Two Cities”, rather the tale of two nations with oceanic gulf– that as a matter of natural or social laws, one can take whichever pick, begets a volcanic eruption for its hubris and excess sooner or later –one a heaven for the ruling minority dictatorship and the coterie of cronies of all types for the most part and , another one, a living hell for the overwhelming majority of our compatriots experiencing economic hardship of untold proportion. Indeed, an all pervading daily phenomena of the Ethiopian people eking out for mere survival under regime’s repressive and corrupt iron grip. And a whole nation, the Ethiopian people in a gigantic prison.
The near crisis situation of the TPLF controlled military is compounded by the “No Way Out” situation in Somalia , bogged down , bleeding day in and day out, soldiers with low morale, pervasive corruption implicating those in high command in a direct and indirect complicity of selling wide array of armaments in the black market of Somalia and the Ogden region of Ethiopia, according a very recent report.