Sudan Says No Dispute with Ethiopia over Extradition of Hijackers
Sudan said Friday that there was no dispute with Ethiopia over the extradition of the five Ethiopian officer cadets who hijacked a military plane to Khartoum.
The Ethiopian government asked Sudan to extradite the five who had hijacked the cloud-grey Antonov-12 plane inside Ethiopia on Thursday and forced it to land at Khartoum international airport.
However, it had been believed that Sudan had refused to extradite the five, who made the hijacking before surrendering and freeing all 51 people aboard.
"We are not going to send them home" to Addis Ababa, Sudanese Information Minister Ghazi Salaheddine Atabani had told reporters Friday.
But it appears his comments came before the Ethiopian request. An extradition treaty exists between the two countries.
"The information according to which Sudan refuses to extradite the hijackers to Ethiopia is groundless", said the Sudanese statement which was read on state television.
"This question continues to be handled in line with the agreements and brotherly relations which exist between the two countries", the statement said.
The four men and one woman, who surrendered before dawn after 10 hours of negotiations at the 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 who was wearing a grey T-shirt, told reporters after security forces took them into custody while confiscating knives and hand grenades.
Thirty-three military personnel, many in uniform, and six crewmen walked free, joining five children and six women who had been released at the beginning of the drama played out in a remote and dark corner of the airport.
One crew member managed to escape through the back of the plane shortly after it landed in Khartoum at 6:30 p.m. (1530 GMT) Thursday.
An Ethiopian diplomat said here that the passengers were in a hotel and were preparing to return home, probably over the weekend.
Ethiopian sources said the hijackers were trainees who had failed their exams to be fighter pilots, and were aged in their twenties.
Atabani said the five cadets gave up after realizing no third country would admit them because they had committed a "serious crime and put people's lives in danger" and after realizing they had nothing to fear in Sudan.
The hijackers, who had asked for political asylum here, had conducted their negotiations through a representative who met with the authorities at a room inside the airport, officials told journalists.
Earlier Friday, a senior Ethiopian official in Addis Ababa told AFP that hijacking was an offence under international law punishable by jail terms of more than 10 years.
He added his government had the right to demand their extradition.
The five seized control of the Russian-made air force plane while it was flying from Bahir-Dar in northwest Ethiopia to Addis Ababa, according to an Ethiopian government source.
Since 1998, Sudan and Ethiopia have been steadily improving relations that took a severe battering with the 1995 attempted assassination in Addis Ababa of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
In May 1998 Khartoum handed back an Ethiopian Cessna military trainer, whose pilot defected to Sudan – KHARTOUM (AFP)
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