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Hijackers of Darfur plane surrender in Libya
Sudan Hijacking NY1 5477525
In this image from Libyan television the hijacked Boeing 737 Sudanese airliner sits at the remote desert airstrip in Libya's Sahara desert oasis of Kufra Wednesday Aug. 27, 2008. The hijackers of the plane that took off from Sudan's Darfur region were releasing passengers Wednesday a civil aviation official said. The hijackers commandeered the Boeing 737 jetliner, which was carrying 95 passengers and crew, soon after it took off Tuesday from the southern Darfur town of Nyala, not far from a refugee camp that the Sudanese military attacked Monday. The hijacked airliner belongs to a private company, Sun Air, the Sudanese civil aviation authority said. - photo by Associated Press
    TRIPOLI, Libya — Two hijackers who commandeered a jetliner from Sudan’s Darfur region and diverted it to a remote desert airstrip in southern Libya surrendered and freed all hostages Wednesday after a daylong standoff, officials said.
    Sudan’s consul in the Sahara desert oasis of Kufra, where the plane landed, said the two Darfur men were brought into the dilapidated airport’s VIP lounge, looking exhausted. Also freed were crew members who the hijackers had continued to hold even after releasing 87 passengers earlier in the day.
    The diplomat, Mohammed Al-Balla Othman, who spoke to The Associated Press by telephone from the VIP room, said that in the last stages of negotiations, the hijackers were asking for asylum in Libya. It was unclear whether the Libyans granted the request.
    Officials said hijackers armed with two handguns commandeered the Boeing 737, which was carrying 95 passengers and crew, soon after it took off Tuesday from the southern Darfur town of Nyala, not far from a refugee camp that the Sudanese military attacked a day earlier. It was unclear whether the hijacking was in retaliation for that attack.
    Passengers said the hijackers identified themselves as members of a Darfur rebel group, the Sudan Liberation Movement, which promptly denied any involvement.
    Officials at the airport in Libya had said the assailants were Darfur rebels, but Murtada Hassan, executive director of Sun Air, which owns the plane, said their motives were personal and that they had no connection with any political or rebel groups. He would not elaborate.
    Darfur rebels took up arms against the Sudanese government in 2003, sparking tit-for-tat attacks on refugee camps and military bases that have left up to 300,000 dead and more than 2.5 million displaced from their homes.
    Upon landing in Kufra’s airfield, which was built by the Italians in the 1930s, the men demanded maps and fuel to fly to Paris, said Kufra airport Director Khaled Sasiya.
    About 500 security personnel and police surrounded the plane as negotiators worked to free the passengers. The two hijackers surrendered after 22 hours, but possible accomplices may have slipped out with the freed passengers, Hassan said.
    The plane had been en route to Khartoum.
    Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, said he had asked Libya to keep the airliner on the ground. Speaking to reporters in the southern city of Juba, he called the hijacking ‘‘a cheap terrorist act.’’ And Sudan’s Foreign Ministry called for the hijackers to be extradited.
    Sasiya also said he talked to one of the hijackers who identified himself as Yassin, a member of a SLM faction led by Abdulwahid Elnur, according to the JANA news agency.
    The rebel leader denied his group was involved.
    ‘‘We categorically deny that the Sudan Liberation Movement has carried out the hijacking,’’ Elnur said, speaking to Al-Jazeera television by telephone. ‘‘We condemn any act that causes harm to any Sudanese civilian.’’
    Among the passengers were former rebels who have become members of the Darfur Transitional Authority, an interim government body responsible for implementing a peace agreement reached in 2006 between the government and one of the rebel factions, a security official at Nyala airport said. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to media.
    Darfur’s ethnic African rebels have been battling the Arab-led Khartoum government in a 5-year conflict that recently prompted the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor to press genocide charges against al-Bashir.
    He is accused of crimes against humanity, for allegedly unleashing government-backed militiamen on civilians in the arid western region of Darfur.
    In the worst attack in months, the Sudanese military on Monday assaulted the Darfur refugee camp of Kalma, near Nyala airport, from where the hijacked plane took off.
    A spokesman for Darfur’s U.N.-African Union peacekeepers, Nourredine Mezni, said at least 33 people killed in the attack were buried Tuesday, though some U.N. officials said the toll could be higher.
    A spokesman for one of the rebel groups, the Justice and Equality Movement, Ahmed Hussain, said he had reports of 70 dead. He accused the government in the hijacking, saying it was trying to ‘‘divert attention’’ from Monday’s attack.
    ———
    Associated Press writers Maamoun Youssef and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo, Egypt, and Mohamed Osman in Khartoum, Sudan, contributed to this report.