On Saturday 9 March, Ethiopia admitted to shooting down a Kenyan plane filled with aid in Somali air space. Al Jazeera reports the flight was a privately chartered aid flight delivering coronavirus supplies such as PPE and food to the Somali countryside. The plane was shot down by Ethiopian troops last Monday as it attempted to land in the border town of Bardale in South West Somalia. All six people on board were killed.
In a statement to the African Union (AU), the Ethiopian Army took responsibility for shooting down the flight, which they claimed had been mistaken for a suicide attack attempt. In the statement the Ethiopian Army claims their troops “had not been informed about the unusual flight” and that the aircraft was flying low. A “lack of communication and awareness” are to blame for the crash, reported a military spokesman in the Anadolu News.
The admission of guilt comes almost a week after the incident occurred, with no party having claimed responsibility in the immediate aftermath of the crash. Earlier this week, Reuters reported that former defence minister Abdirashid Abdullahi Mohamed speculated that the plane appeared to have been shot down. Mohamed was quoted by Al Jazeera saying “the plane made an initial attempt to land, swung around again because of wildlife on the airfield, and then appeared to be shot on one wing on its second approach.”
The flight was identified by the state-run Somali National News Agency. They reported that the plane belonged to African Express Airways and was ferrying supplies for use in the fight against coronavirus. East African states are currently bracing for the coronavirus pandemic that is expected to wreak havoc on the region.
Ethiopia currently has troops in the regions of Baidoa and Bardale as a contribution to the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia. Al Jazeera reports that Al-Shabab, the al-Qaeda affiliate fighting the Somali government, has a strong presence in the region. The group regularly conducts attacks in Somalia and Kenya.
The downing of the flight comes at a time of strained relations between Somalia and Kenya. Last month Kenya accused Somalian troops of attacking a Northern border post near Mandera. Somalia has long accused Kenya of meddling in it’s domestic affairs. This incident is yet another example of rising tensions in the region at a moment where coronavirus risks causing chaos.