Polce say the atmosphere on the plane is “calm”


British police are negotiating with the hijackers of an Afghan plane believed to be carrying 165 hostages on the ground at Stansted Airport, near London.

The Boeing 727 was hijacked on Sunday by about six men armed with pistols and grenades during an internal flight from the Afghan capital, Kabul, to the city of Mazar-e-Sharif.

Police stand by

Hundreds of police and security officers are at Stansted, as well as interpreters ready to liaise with the hijackers. It is also thought that soldiers from the UK’s special forces, the SAS, are at the airport.

The Afghan Taleban said that while the British authorities were free to negotiate with the hijackers, the Taleban itself would not give in to any of their demands.

Emergency service vehicles were scrambled as the Ariana plane touched down shortly after 0200 GMT, escorting the jet to a secure area to the north of the airport, about half a mile away from the main terminals.

On Sunday, the aircraft landed twice in Central Asia - first in Uzbekistan and then in Kazakhstan where at least 10 passengers, including women and children, were released, and the plane was refuelled.

It then flew on to Moscow where another 10 passengers were released during four hours on the ground.

Akhtar Mohammad Mansoor, the Taleban’s minister for civil aviation and tourism, said UK authorities should end the hijack by storming the plane.

“They can do it as they have past experience. They can separate the crew and the passengers and bring the hijackers to their knees. If not then they should allow us to do it,” he said.

Mansoor said the Taleban did not know who the hijackers were, or their demands and said it would not give in to demands.

Stansted, which has been the scene of several similar incidents in the past, has well-rehearsed procedures for dealing with hijack situations.

The Deputy Chief Constable of Essex Police, Charles Clark, said he believed conditions on board were calm.

“Contact has been made from the control tower by one of our trained negotiators,” he told the BBC.

“It is too soon to talk about any demands. The policing priority is the safe release of everybody on board the craft. Lives are at risk here.

“This could be a long drawn-out operation.”

Supplies for hostages

He added that an agreement had been reached to supply a generator to provide electricity for the comfort of passengers. At least one of the aircraft’s doors has been opened to allow fresh air onto the plane.

Medication is alo being provided to assist one passenger with a kidney complaint.

“There have been other requests for teabags, cans of drink and other such things to keep the passengers as comfortable as can be,” he said.

Mr Clark said he believed the hostages consisted of 122 men, 20 women and 23 children, a number which includes 14 crew members.

John Stent, managing director of Stansted Airport, said that about half the airport’s normal departure flights would take place.

He warned that significant delays at the airport were inevitable and urged the 24,000 people planning to travel through the airport on Monday to check with their airlines.

The airport is expected to remain closed to inbound flights.

Unclear demands

The hijackers have so far made no demands, though according to one report, they are seeking the release of Ismail Khan, a military commander of the anti-Taleban alliance.

A UK Home Office spokeswoman said: “Obviously, we are hoping for a peaceful solution to this situation. At this stage, we are not aware of any demands or requests from those on board the aircraft.”

Opposition forces in Afghanistan led by commander Ahmed Shah Massoud have denied all involvement in the hijacking, saying earlier that a dissident called Gula Ajha was responsible.

Tanker “smuggling” Iraqi oil


America says tests it has carried out prove that oil on board a Russian tanker seized in the Gulf last week was being smuggled from Iraq in violation of UN sanctions.

United States Defence Secretary William Cohen said samples of the fuel oil from the tanker taken for analysis “do reveal that the oil was from Iraq”.

“There also was an Iraqi naval officer aboard the ship so it’s pretty clear,” he added.

The Volgoneft-147 has now arrived in Oman, and has docked at the port of Mina al-Fahl in the capital Muscat.

Russian diplomats were in port to board the tanker.

Omani officials said the tanker was finally moored 4km (2.5 miles) out at sea.

Legal action

US navy personnel, operating as part of a multinational patrol enforcing UN sanctions on Iraq, boarded the boat on Wednesday.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that the results of its own investigation showed the ship was carrying Iranian heavy fuel oil loaded in Iranian waters.

It demanded the tanker be released as soon as it is unloaded.

But Mr Cohen said it would be up to Oman to decide what to do with the ship once it had been unloaded in Muscat.

He even held out the possibility that the Omani authorities might wish to take legal action against the tanker’s crew.

US patrols

The usual procedure if a vessel is found to be carrying smuggled Iraqi oil is to confiscate the cargo, sell it on behalf of the United Nations, and then release the vessel.

Mr Cohen pointed out that the tanker was privately owned, and not the property of the Russian Government.

He also said said the US was stepping monitoring of oil traffic, and had added another warship to patrols in the Gulf since the seizure of the Volgoneft-147.

The US navy-led interception force is policing the Gulf to prevent the smuggling in and out of Iraq of goods banned under UN sanctions imposed after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Iraq is allowed to sell oil worth $5.26bn every six months under UN supervision to buy food and medicine.

Russia insists it is complying in full with the sanctions, but has expressed growing dissatisfaction with a lack of progress in easing or lifting the blockade.

Moscow has warned that relations with Washington could be damaged as a result of the incident.

An official Iraqi newspaper, meanwhile, has accused the US of “piracy”.

All Over the Globe is published by IPA House.
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