Last Update: Saturday, August 28, 2004. 1:53am (AEST)
Eritreans hijack plane after expulsion from Libya

Four Eritreans, among a group expelled from Libya, have given themselves up after hijacking a plane flying them home and forcing it to land in Khartoum, a Sudanese police commander said.

General Sayyed El-Hussein Osman, deputy chief of police, confirmed that only four of the Eritreans were involved in the hijacking.

The four surrendered after the flight landed in the Sudanese capital.

Earlier, Libya confirmed reports it had expelled 229 illegal immigrants of various nationalities.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said the only passengers aboard the special flight were Eritreans.

"The plane landed in Khartoum and they surrendered around 1:00pm (8:00pm AEST Friday)," the agency's head of Sudan operations, Jean-Marie Fakhouri, told reporters in Geneva.

Police surrounded the plane on the tarmac at Khartoum and UN officials were interviewing the Eritreans at the airport, he added.

General Hussein said Sudan had agreed to allow the plane to land "to save human lives", as at least half of the passengers on the military plane were women and children.

Many of them appeared to be in a state of shock and were taken to hospital for treatment.

The Libyan pilot told the Khartoum authorities he had enough fuel for just one hour's more flight, said the general, who negotiated personally with the hijackers.

Libya's official JANA news agency quoted the Interior Ministry as saying it "expelled 229 illegal immigrants - 145 Nigerians and 84 Eritreans - late on Thursday night (local time) aboard a Libyan plane which was hijacked to Sudan.

"Knives were used to force the crew of the plane to land in Khartoum," the Ministry added.

The Ministry said its decision to deport the foreigners was due to its "willingness to fight against the growing influx of illegal immigrants entering Libya and who are harming our relations with Europe."

The expulsions came two days after Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berluconi visited Tripoli for talks with Libyan leader Moamar Gaddafi on the problem of immigrants heading for Italian shores from Libya.

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

-- AFP

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