Eritreans hijack plane to Sudan

The four hijackers eventually surrendered to the Khartoum authorities but only after a lengthy ordeal for their 69 fellow passengers, who included six children and 22 women, Sudan’s deputy police chief, General Sayyed El-Hussein Osman, said.

When the Libyan air force C-130 transport first touched down in the Sudanese capital, the hijackers demanded a meeting with representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees which was rejected by Khartoum, said General Hussein, who personally took charge of the negotiations.

“We told them that if they came out of the plane with their hands on their heads and surrendered, no harm would come to them,” he said.

But the hijackers refused and ordered the pilot to take off again, prompting Khartoum to inform them that they would be denied permission to put down again on Sudanese soil.

The Libyan pilot then informed the control tower that he had enough fuel for just one hour in the air and the hijackers said they were willing to surrender unconditionally, prompting the Sudanese authorities to relent.

When the plane landed again, the passengers “rushed for exit” and several required medical treatment for shock, the general said, adding that all 73 Eritreans were in police custody.

Sudan has frosty relations with Eritrea, which it accuses of backing rebels in Darfur and the east and south, but General Hussein insisted the decision to allow the plane to land was a purely humanitarian one “to save human lives”.

The official Sudan News Agency reported that two members of the Khartoum-based Eritrean opposition took part in the negotiations with the hijackers.

Libya, which has come under mounting European pressure to clamp down on the flow of mainly African illegal immigrants through its territory, confirmed that it had expelled 229 of various nationalities during the day.

They comprised 145 Nigerians and 84 Eritreans, the interior ministry said in a statement carried by the official JANA news agency.

The expulsions came just two days after Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berluconi visited Tripoli for talks with Libyan leader Moamer Kadhafi on the problem of immigrants heading for Italian shores.

Illegal immigration is “not just an Italian and a Libyan problem but one for Europe and Africa”, Berlusconi said.

The renewed repatriations came despite warnings from New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch that those returned to Eritrea faced imprisonment and torture by President Issaias Afeworki’s regime.

“Unfortunately, their plight resembles that of refugees forcibly returned to Eritrea in 2002. Human Rights Watch has received reliable reports that many of those refugees are still confined and that some have been tortured,” the group stated.

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