Sudan Plane Hijacker Surrenders in Chad

A Sudanese plane carrying 103 passengers and crew was hijacked Wednesday and diverted to the Chadian capital, N'Djamena, where the hijacker surrendered, officials said.

Saif Omer, Air West's managing director, said the man walked out of the plane after it landed in Chad and said he wanted asylum in Britain. Nobody was injured, he said.

The hijacker walked into the cockpit a half-hour after takeoff and put a pistol to the pilot's head, demanding to go to Chad, Omer said. He made no threats against the passengers, all of whom were Sudanese expect for a Briton and an Italian military attache.

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

Details on the hijacker were sketchy; Omer said the man was from Darfur and appeared to be in his mid-30s.

Air West 612 had been headed from Khartoum to the western city of El-Fasher, said Khartoum's airport manager, Yussuf Ibrahim. Khartoum-based Air West is one of 95 airlines banned from landing at European airports because of its safety record. It is a privately owned company operating domestic passenger services and international cargo charters.

Sudanese officials did not immediately comment on the hijacking, which is likely to further complicate the strained relations with neighboring Chad.

Sudan and Chad trade accusations of supporting each other's rebels, who have mounted increasingly daring attacks on each side of the border. Chadian officials have said Khartoum backed rebels who twice threatened their capital last year, and recently said Sudan's air force had violated their air space.

For its part, Khartoum has grown increasingly frustrated with the Chadian support to a leading coalition of Darfur rebels. The Darfur rebels met on the Chadian side of the border last week with U.S. special envoy to Sudan Andrew Natsios, who urged them to renew peace talks with the Sudanese government to end Darfur's conflict, which has killed over 200,000 people in the past four years.

"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 have increasingly come under attack.

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


AP writers AP writers Alfred de Montesquiou and Mohamed Osman in Khartoum, Sudan, and Anthony Mitchell in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report.

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