Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Ethiopia: Amnesty Concerned Over Pilots

Reuters AlertNet -- Two of three Ethiopian pilots who allegedly defected to neighboring Djibouti may have been forcibly returned against their will, Amnesty International (AI) said on Friday.

"Amnesty fears that they may have been forcibly returned without having had their asylum claims assessed in a fair and satisfactory procedure in accordance with international refugee law and standards," the organization said.

AI was concerned that the two pilots could be at risk of further torture or ill-treatment and prolonged detention without charge or trial, or a military trial that might fall short of international fair trial standards, in which they might be sentenced to death for desertion.

The Ethiopian defence ministry said they had no information on the fate of the three pilots, who reportedly flew their Ethiopian military helicopter to neighbouring Djibouti around 10 June.

In a statement Amnesty urged the Ethiopian authorities to reveal the whereabouts of the pilots and allow them immediate access to relatives, lawyers and any medical treatment they may require. AI also called for an investigation to establish whether the pilots had been "forcibly returned" to Ethiopia, in breach of international conventions.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has issued an appeal to see the men. UNHCR recently sent a letter to Djibouti's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mahamoud Ali Youssouf, expressing its concern over the fate of the three Ethiopians.

A separate group of eight Ethiopian air force personnel defected while training in Belarus in early June. UNHCR said they were now being processed under the Belarussian asylum system.

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