Ethiopia loses her last MiG-21 pilot to exile

SEATTLE, Washington – Lt. Yonas Belay, Ethiopia’s last remaining MiG-21 pilot who had a staggering 128 reconnaissance missions into enemy territory in the 1998-2000 Ethiopia-Eritrea War, recently sought a political asylum in Canada.
Trained in Moscow in the mid-80s as MiG-21 and MiG-23 pilot, Lt. Yonas ended for good a life that had been caught between flying as a fighter pilot in times of war and languishing as a political prisoner in times of peace.
He fought for his country against Eritrea but shortly after he was behind bars because - his political tormentors said - he flew low over a city while test-flying a refurbished jet.
He joined the Ethiopian Air Force in 1985, and was a close friend of the late
Major Daniel Beyene, a squadron commander of the Air Force Fighter Pilot Training School who was killed in November 2006 under mysterious circumstances.
When TPLF rebels, who, under the command of Meles Zenawi fought for Eritrean independence on the one hand and toppled the Derg on the other, Lt Yonas was one of the highly qualified pilots who were fired instantly as part of a nationwide measure that virtually destroyed the foundations of the Ethiopian defense forces.
The clouds of war that began to gather following the mid-90s, however, forced the then TPLF leadership into seeking the help of the Russia-trained pilots to man the several MiG fighter jets that had been grounded for several years on the premises of Debre Zeit Air Force, 50 km south of Addis Ababa.
Eritrea invaded Ethiopia in May 1998, and two years layter Lt. Yonas had carried out 128 sorties by flying over the airspace of the country, one of the most heavily militarized zones in the world.
"It was the high-level performance of the Air Force and its qualified pilots like Lt Yonas Belay that contributed to Ethiopia thrashing Eritrea during the major offensives at Badme in 1999 and later toward the end of the 2000," the source said.
Repression Rife
When the war ended the government once again resorted to its old ways of politically tormenting those pilots who were considered sympathizers of the opposition party, or were generally seen outside the favored ruling party of Mr. Zenawi.
At one time, Yonas was jailed for six months because his bosses said he flew a jet low over the city of Mekelle, where there is an Air Force flight training school.
"When freed, senior pilots like Yonas are relegated to training trusted recruits of the ruling party," the source said, who would later "be promoted and trained overseas to fly sophisticated machines like the SU-27 jets. The political repression and isolation was too much that most were forced to seek asylum in several countries around the globe."
With the worsening political repression, Yonas lost hope of keeping his job in good faith and quit. Later on, his qualifications earned him a place with the Ethiopian Airlines (EAL). After a short period of transitioning himself from flying a MiG fighter jet to managing a Boeing Commercial passenger aircraft, Yonas started out life anew as a commercial airline pilot. Before long, however, the Ethiopian Air Force warned Ethiopian Airlines to fire Lt. Yonas. The order was respected, and soon Yonas was thrown into the ranks of the unemployed by the government.

Since the coming to power of Meles, Ethiopia's Air Force has declined considerably that the country has - at present - no single pilot to fly MiG-21, a machine still widely used around the world as a fitting machine for spying on enemy positions.
Though Ethiopian pilots have defected on numerous occasions, the major blow to the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi came in June 2005 when eight Ethiopians who were being trained as
SU-27 fighter pilots in Minsk, Belarus, sought political asylum in protest to government killings of unarmed protesters in June 2005 in Addis Ababa.
The MiG-21's advantages in terms of manoeuvrability, easy maintenance and low costs continue to make it the fighter plane of choice for air forces around the world, says the online
Frontline "There are more than 7,000 MiG-21s currently operational around the world. Chinese Air Force itself has more than 700 MiG-21s."

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at1:28 AM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an Ethiopian, I feel sorry. And highly woried about the future of Ethiopia.
The ruling EPRDF regime sole aim is to destroy Ethiopia and Ethiopians.
God bless Ethiopia.

6:12 AM  

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