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December 25, 1999
No third party mediation to end hijack crisis: Jaswant
Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi
External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh revealed this evening that there was no third-party mediation to end the day-long hijacking drama involving Indian Airlines Flight 814. India expects developments in the crisis on Sunday, he told reporters. "I expect developments to take shape sometime tomorrow morning. The government is taking all steps that are prudent and effective," he added.
Asked if any country had offered its services to end the crisis, the minister contended, "India has taken the initiative in all these matters."
He regretted the laxity in security measures at Kathmandu airport, from where Flight 814 was hijacked yesterday, underscoring that "we are disappointed with the Nepalese authorities."
Addressing reporters at the ministry of civil aviation, the minister said he expected a friendly neighbouring country to extend all co-operation in tight security measures for Indian aircraft as was the case here for Nepalese aircraft. But the Nepalese authorities had shown laxity as the result of which Flight 814 had been hijacked, the minister pointed out.
Singh told a reporter he did not want to enter into an argument with the Nepalese civil aviation minister who, according to the reporter, had heatedly contended that the arms in possession of the hijackers were with them before the aircraft landed in Nepal.
The minister told rediff.com that he would not comment on "speculative" reports that the Saudi millionaire-terrorist Osama bin Laden had virtually lauded the hijacking of the Indian aircraft after observing that India, Russia and the United States were anti-Islamic.
Senior ministry of external affairs officials, who are directly involved in finding a solution to the crisis, pointed out that Singh's "hands were tied" because Nepal was a neighbouring country with which India wanted good, friendly and co-operative relations. However, they said the authorities in Kathmandu had shown "criminal negligence by allowing the hijackers to smuggle arms into the aircraft." Kathmandu's role "in the undesirable and avoidable episode" was not conducive to Indo-Nepalese relations, the officials pointed out.
The minister said the Indian government had expressed its appreciation of the co-operation by the United Arab Emirates government which extended all help to the passengers and crew of the hijacked plane. He also expressed appreciation of the authorities in Afghanistan who had extended similar co-operation to the passengers and crew.
The minister pointed out that the government's primary concern was the safe return of the passengers and hijacked aircraft to India for which all efforts are being made. Contending that the hijackers had not yet made any demand, he said the aircraft was still in Kandahar where the Afghan authorities had provided blankets and food to the passengers.
Quoting the passengers who had been released in Dubai, Singh said there were either five or seven hijackers whose identity could not yet be established. He refused to comment on the telephone call made to the air traffic control here this afternoon which claimed that the hijackers belonged to the Islamic Salvation Front. "I don't want to comment on an anonymous telephone call to the ATC," he pointed out.
According to the minister, the leader of the hijackers was well-dressed and spoke English fluently. The leader spoke to the commander of the aircraft, instructing the latter to convey his messages to the ATC here, he added.
MEA officials, meanwhile, said the vigil on the Indo-Nepal border was bound to increase after the hijacking increased the tension between the two countries. They referred to India's repeated reminders to the authorities in Kathmandu that Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence operatives were extremely active against Indian interests on Nepalese soil.
Whenever India complained to the Nepalese authorities about the ISI's subversive activities against India on Nepalese soil, the MEA officials said Kathmandu virtually turned a deaf ear and demanded what it called solid proof.
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