158 killed in Libyan 'mid-air collision'

TUNIS (Reuter) - A Libyan Boeing 727 crashed yesterday, killing all 158 people on board. A Libyan Arab Airlines official said the authorities were investigating reports that the crash was the result of a mid-air collision.

The plane, on an internal flight to Tripoli from the eastern city of Benghazi, crashed near the town of Souk al-Sabt, about 35 miles south-east of the capital, the official said. The official Libyan news agency, JANA, said there were foreigners on board the airliner but gave no details.

The plane had left Benghazi at 9am and was approaching Tripoli when the accident occurred at 10.07am, the official said. There were no inhabitants in the area where the plane crashed. The airline is preparing a list of the passengers and will release it later, he said. A spokesman for the Libyan civil aviation authority had said earlier that he was forbidden to release any details of the accident, including the type of plane.

Tripoli residents said the passenger plane apparently collided with a Libyan military plane. The crew of the warplane survived by parachuting to the ground, they said. 'This is still under investigation,' the airline official said of the collision reports.

Libyan Arab Airlines has flown only domestic flights since April, when the United Nations imposed an air blockade as part of a package to punish Libya for refusing to hand over two men accused of planting explosives on board a Pan Am plane which blew up over Lockerbie, Scotland, on 21 December, 1988 - killing 270 people.

The sanctions include a ban of sales of aviation spare parts to Libya. Major Abdel-Salam Jalloud, second-in-command to the Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, said in November this was putting the lives of passengers at risk.

Libya has said it will allow the two Lockerbie suspects to face trial abroad provided it is sure the trial will be fair. It has not agreed to let them stand trial in Britain or the United States, the countries in which they are wanted. Libya is also at odds with France over four men wanted for questioning about a plane from a French airline, UTA, which blew up over Niger in 1989.

In London, Tam Dalyell, the Labour MP for Linlithgow, yesterday wrote to the Foreign Secretary, Douglas Hurd, urging him to lift trade sanctions on Libya at least as far as aircraft parts were concerned, as a gesture of goodwill. Mr Dalyell, who visited Libya in November last year on a fact-finding mission, said: 'Many Britons who work in engineering companies in Libya fly the Benghazi-Tripoli route.'

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