All 51 Aboard Hijacked Plane are Freed in Sudan, Hijackers Surrender
Five armed air force cadets hijacked an Ethiopian military plane and diverted it to Sudan before freeing all 51 people aboard and surrendering to the authorities before dawn Friday.
The four men and one woman, who surrendered after 10 hours of negotiations at Khartoum international airport, said they had staged the hijacking to escape tough political and economic conditions at home.
"There are no freedoms," Bagim Berhan Tegegne, one of the hijackers, told reporters after security forces took them into custody while confiscating knives and hand grenades. They had also been reported armed with pistols.
Thirty-three military personnel and six crewmen walked free meanwhile, joining five children and six women who had been released at the beginning of the crisis, played out in a remote and dark corner of the airport.
Most were fairly subdued.
Officials had said that some passengers had been showing signs of dehydration as it was very hot in the plane.
The hijackers, who had been seeking asylum, had conducted their negotiations through a representative who met with the authorities at a room inside the airport, officials told journalists.
Besides the women and children who were released earlier, one crew member managed to escape through the back of the plane shortly after it landed here at 6:30 p.m. (1530 GMT) Thursday.
Sudan's Information Minister Ghazi Salah Eddine Atabani said the five cadets gave up after realizing no third country would admit them and receiving assurances that Sudan would not deport them to Ethiopia.
"We will not send them home," he told AFP.
The official said that the hijackers were informed that they could consult lawyers and obtain a fair trial.
The five seized control of the Russian-made Antonov-12 air force plane while it was flying between military bases in Ethiopia, and diverted it here, diplomats and other source said.
"The hijackers at first asked to travel to any other country and asked for the Sudanese authorities to get them the necessary visas," Atabani said.
"When we convinced them that no country would admit them, they realized they had no other choice and surrendered to the authorities," he said.
"We made them understand that they had committed a serious crime here and put people's lives in danger," Atabani said.
In Addis Ababa, one diplomat, who asked not to be identified, said the plane had just taken off on a domestic flight from the town and key military center of Debre-Zeit, 45 kilometers (28 miles) south of Addis Ababa, when it was hijacked.
Witnesses said the plane then headed for Sudan at a low altitude, apparently to evade radar detection.
Speaking earlier on state television, Atabani refused to confirm reports there were nine hijackers and that they were students from Addis Ababa University.
The campus was the scene of bloody clashes earlier this month, but no link had been made with the hijacking.
At the height of the crisis, an AFP journalist reported that two ambulances packed with nurses and four trucks filled with riot police entered the airport, as well as a UN vehicle carrying non-Sudanese.
There had been unconfirmed reports that a child died, but Atabani said all five children had been freed alive along with the six women.
Sudanese television reported that air traffic in and out of the airport here had continuing normally.
An Ethiopian embassy official in Khartoum told AFP he had gone to the Sudanese Foreign Ministry to discuss the crisis and then left for the airport.
Relations between Sudan and Ethiopia worsened in 1995 following the attempted assassination of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, but the two countries have recently begun to normalize ties -- KHARTOUM (AFP)
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