Eritreans are one of the largest groups trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. The president, which has been in power since 1991, is described as increasingly repressive in the country.

By Elias Meseret (Associated Press) |

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia―Two Eritrean pilots have defected with their fighter jets to neighboring Ethiopia, an Eritrean opposition group confirmed Thursday, in a dramatic exit from one of the world’s most closed-off states.

“The two pilots flew their small-sized fighter jets to Mekelle on Wednesday morning,” Nasredin Ahmed Ali, spokesman for the Ethiopia-based Red Sea Afar Democratic Organization, told The Associated Press.

The spokesman identified the pilots as Afeworki Fisehaye and Mebrahtu Tesfamariam and described them as being very experienced with Eritrea’s air force. He said Ethiopian fighter jets accompanied them upon their entry into the country’s air space.

One witness, Abiy Chelkeba, a lecturer at Mekelle University, said Ethiopian jets were flying very low and conducting unusual turns in the northern city Wednesday morning. Local media also reported the defection.

An Eritrean official based in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, said he was not aware of the defections. Ethiopia’s government spokesman, Getachew Reda, declined to comment.

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