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Unions Say Security Official Masterminded Airlift of Ethiopian Jews

May 1, 1985

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) _ A federation of Sudanese civil aviation unions charged Tuesday that a senior state security official helped organize the secret airlift of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel last winter.

In a statement issued Tuesday, the General Secretariat of Civil Aviation Unions outlined what it said were details of the operation in which thousands of the Ethiopian Jews were transported to Israel from Sudan.

In reporting the statement, the state-run Sudan News Agency identified the security official as Col. Al-Fatih Mohammed Ahmed Arwa.

The operation, which involved Jewish refugees seeking haven in Sudan from drought and civil war in Ethiopia, was stopped after it was disclosed in Western news stories. The reported role of Sudan prompted severe criticism of then-President Gaafar Nimeiri from Arab countries.

Gen. Abdul-Rahman Swareddahab, who led the military coup that deposed Nimeiri on April 6, has said the airlift will be investigated. Both the Israelis and Nimeiri’s government had denied there was official Sudanese involvement.

The union federation’s statement called for an investigation into the airlift and trials of ″all those involved.″

The statement contended the operation was supervised by Arwa, an officer of Nimeiri’s now-disbanded state security police.

It said the Ethiopian Jews were brought to Khartoum Airport between the hours of 1-3 a.m. and smuggled in through a special entrance normally reserved for Moslem pilgrims on the annual religious journey to Mecca.

The Jews would be concealed until aircraft arrived to fly them to ″various airports in Greece, Italy and Belgium,″ the statement said. It identified the carrier as a Belgian company, Trans European Airlines, whose spokesman have said was involved in the airlift.

There were 28 flights, beginning Nov. 20 on an alternate day basis, the statement said. After Dec. 22, it said, the flights left nightly until the airlift ended Jan. 4.

Trans European said its contract had ended.

The statement charged the flights were given ″exceptional″ treatment and were not subject to normal aviation procedures. Aircraft were exempted from customary travel paperwork, and customs, immigration and health procedures were waived, it said.

It said Sudanese employed at the airport were prevented from approaching the aircraft.