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Eritrea denies it sent Uhuru jet back as diplomatic row brews

Eritrea on Wednesday sought to absolve itself from blame over President Uhuru Kenyatta’s aborted trip to the US.

The Eritrean Government protested its innocence, saying it had allowed the President to fly over its territory on the night his plane flew back to Nairobi last week.

Eritrean Embassy spokesman Beyene Russom said his country issued the permission “in a matter of 20 minutes”.

Last week, the President’s plane was turned back midair en route to Dubai, where he was to take a commercial flight to Los Angeles, USA, for the annual Milken Institute Global Conference.

He later cancelled the trip, but on Wednesday addressed the meeting via a video-link.

Eritrea said it had allowed Kenya to fly the Air Force jet in its airspace after a request on Thursday last week.

The country provided entry and exit permits for the aircraft, but the presidential plane did not reach the Eritrean airspace, the spokesman said on Wednesday.


“We are protesting formally because this is completely false information that Eritrea did not allow the Kenyan plane.


“The aircraft was, in fact, turned away in Ethiopian airspace,” said Mr Russom.

Initially, the Presidency cited “increased military activity in Yemen” as the reason for the plane’s U-turn.

It later turned out that the flight path filed had not included Yemen. The plane was to pass through Ethiopia, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, to the United Arab Emirates.

Although these countries had accepted the path, Ethiopian aviation authorities are said to have refused to hand over the aircraft to their Eritrean counterparts. President Kenyatta used a similar route when he visited Jordan recently.

On Monday, the Ethiopian Ambassador to Kenya Dina Mufti was summoned by the Foreign Affairs ministry in Nairobi, but no information on the discussions was given.

On Monday, Mr Russom protested to the Foreign Affairs ministry after a local newspaper reported that Eritrea had refused to endorse the flight path taken by the military plane carrying the President.

In a note copied to all foreign missions in Nairobi, Mr Russom charged that his government “promptly” issued the permission to the presidential jet to enter its airspace after receiving a call from protocol officials in Nairobi.


He said the protocol department had contacted Asmara by telephone and the permission was granted “without waiting for a formal letter of request”.

The Senate on Tuesday said it was launching investigations into the incident.

Ethiopia and Eritrea, which separated in 1993, have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1998, when a war between them led to more than 100,000 deaths.

The war was ended by the Algiers Peace Agreement and the establishment of the Ethiopia-Eritrea Border Commission in 2000.

However, a stalemate between them has continued because of a dispute over some rulings of the commission. Eritrea also accused Ethiopia of sponsoring rebels against Asmara, while Ethiopia has accused Eritrea of supporting terrorists.

In 2009, the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo, travel restrictions, and an asset freeze on Eritrean political and military leaders deemed to support extremist groups in Somalia.