Passenger plane hijacked after leaving Darfur

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The Independent Online

A Sudanese passenger plane was hijacked last night after leaving Darfur and forced to land in Libya.

A total of 87 passengers were on the plane, according to Arabic satellite TV channel Al Jazeera.

Three senior members of a former Darfur rebel movement which has signed a peace accord with the government were among the passengers, a spokesman for the group said.

A source close to the Sudanese civil aviation authorities said there was a scuffle at Nyala airport as members of the Sudan Liberation Movement were boarding. "They tried to get on with weapons," said the source.

The plane had been bound for Khartoum from Nyala, the capital of South Darfur. After it was commandeered, Egyptian authorities refused it permission to land and the plane changed course towards Libya, Al Jazeera said.

The Darfur region has been a conflict area since a rebellion against Khartoum's rule broke out more than five years ago. International experts say more than 2.5 million Darfuris have been driven from their homes and 200,000 people killed in the violence. Sudan puts the death toll at about 10,000.

Insurgents are split into more than a dozen factions.

Three senior members of SLM, a former Darfur rebel group, were aboard the hijacked plane, a spokesman said.

Mohammed Bashir, of the SLM's Minni Arcua Minnawi faction, identified them as an adviser to Minnawi, the movement's land commissioner, and one of the architects of the Darfur peace agreement of 2006.