Sudan hijackers free passengers but hold crew

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The Independent Online

The hijackers of a Sudanese plane that was forced to land in Libya freed all the passengers on Wednesday but still held six crew members, Libya's aviation authority said.

The airliner was seized on Tuesday after leaving Sudan's war-battered Darfur region for Khartoum and was forced to land at the remote Sahara desert oasis of Kufrah.

Libya's Civil Aviation Authority said 95 passengers had been on the Boeing 737/200, all of them Sudanese except two Egyptian police officers, two Ethiopians and one Ugandan. It said they were all freed along with two female crew members. Six crew were still being held.

"Negotiations are continuing with the hijackers in order to free the remaining crew members and for the hijackers to give themselves up," Libyan state news agency Jana quoted Mohamed Shlibek, the head of the authority, as saying.

He said the hijackers had reiterated their demand for the plane to be refuelled to fly to Paris. Sudan's Civil Aviation Authority said the two hijackers had demanded refugee status there.

"They have asked for asylum rights, refugee status. That was their first demand," said spokesman Abdel Hafiz Abdel Rahim. The identity of the hijackers was unclear.

Libya's state news agency said the pilot had told Libyan authorities they were from a branch of the Sudanese Liberation Movement (SLM), a Darfur rebel group, and wanted to meet their leader Abdel Wahed Mohammed al-Nur in Paris. But Nur's faction strongly denied the hijackers were its members.

Another SLM faction that signed a 2006 deal with Khartoum, which was rejected by Nur, said the passengers on the hijacked plane included seven of its officers, three of them members of a transitional Darfur regional government.

"We are very, very concerned and are doing all we can to contact them," said Mohammed Bashir, a senior member of the faction led by Minni Arcua Minnawi, which was the only Darfur rebel group to sign the peace deal.

Darfur has been riven by conflict 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. Sudan puts the death toll at about 10,000. The insurgents are split into numerous factions.

The plane took off from the South Darfur capital, Nyala, bound for Khartoum. Libya granted permission for the plane to land after the pilot said it was running out of fuel, Libya's state news agency said.