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Sudan Plane Hijack Ends Peacefully
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The Sudanese hijack incident ended on Wednesday as the hijacker was seized by Chadian troops following the plane's safe landing in the Chadian capital N'Djamena. All 103 on board are safe.

Saif Omer, Air West airline's managing director, said the man walked out of the plane after it landed from Khartoum and stated he was requesting asylum in Britain. No one was injured, Omer said.

"The passengers were unaware that the plane had been hijacked," Omer said.

The hijacker entered the cockpit a half-hour after takeoff and put a pistol to the pilot's head, demanding to go to London, said Chad's infrastructure minister, Adoum Younousmi. Upon being informed there was not enough fuel to do so, the hijacker agreed to land in Chad, where he surrendered.

He did not threaten the passengers, who were all Sudanese except for a Briton and an Italian military attache.

Omer identified the hijacker as Mohamed Abdu Altif, 26, of El Fasher, capital of North Darfur state. The flight had been headed from Khartoum to El Fasher.

"We don't know where the security breach occurred," said an Air West official on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Khartoum-based Air West is one of 95 airlines barred from landing at European airports due to poor safety records. A privately owned company, it operates domestic passenger services and international cargo charters.

Strained relations

The hijacking is likely to further complicate strained relations between Chad and Sudan. The neighboring countries are in a war of words, mudslinging accusations of supporting each other's rebels, who have mounted increasingly daring attacks on each side of the border.

The Chadian Embassy in Sudan, which reopened four months ago, said both countries were "fully cooperating" to resolve the incident.

"This is an isolated act of no political consequence," said Chadian Charge d'Affaires in Sudan, Abdut Abderrahman. "Authorities are fully cooperating to solve the incident."

The infrastructure minister, Adoum Younousmi, said the hijacker would be brought to trial. "Chad is not a terrorist haven. He is a terrorist and we will take him to court," Younousmi said.

Sudanese officials did not immediately comment.

Chadian officials have said Khartoum-backed rebels twice threatened their capital last year, and recently claimed Sudan's air force had violated Chadian air space.

Khartoum has grown increasingly frustrated at Chadian support for a leading coalition of Darfur rebels. The Darfur rebels met on the Chadian side of the border last week with US special envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios, who is trying to reinvigorate peace talks with the Sudanese government to end Darfur's conflict.

"We call on Chadians to refrain from providing assistance to Sudanese rebel groups and honor the bilateral agreements we have signed," the Sudanese army spokesman said earlier this week.

Hundreds of thousands of Darfur's 2.5 million refugees have fled across the border to Chad, where they are increasingly coming under attack.

Khartoum opposes a UN Security Council plan to send some 22,000 peacekeepers to Darfur. To prevent the general spillover of Darfur's conflict, the United Nations is contemplating sending peacekeepers to Chad and the Central African Republic to monitor the Sudanese border.

(China Daily via agencies January 25, 2007)

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