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December 26, 1999
Hijack crisis: Taleban willing to co-operate with India
Syed Firdaus Ashraf, Suparn Verma
In a late night development, the Taleban said it would co-operate with the Indian government to find a solution to the two-day-old hijack crisis.
"We wanted the United Nations to solve the problem, but both the Indian government and the hijackers did not agree. We now expect an Indian team to come to Kandahar for talks with the hijackers," Maulvi Hakim Mujahid, the Taleban's representative in New York, told the Star News channel on Sunday night.
India does not recognise the Taleban regime in Afghanistan.
The Taleban had earlier aserted that it would not allow the Indian government to conduct a security operation on its soil to free the hostages aboard Flight 814.
Earlier, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee indicated on Sunday that India would not release Maulana Masood Azhar, the Pakistan-born secretary general of the Harkat-ul Ansar as the hijackers of Flight 814 demanded on Saturday. In a conversation with relatives of the passengers aboard the hijacked Indian Airlines aircraft, Vajpayee said his government "would not bend to terrorism."
The prime minister told the relatives that UN official Erik de Mul, who visited the aircraft at Kandahar on Sunday, had found the passengers safe. He has cancelled his trip to Madras on Monday for the Bharatiya Janata Party's national executive meeting, in view of the crisis.
The government, External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh said this evening, is also in touch with ten nations in an effort to find a resolution to the hijack crisis. However, indications are that the government does not believe an early resolution to the crisis is likely.
Ministers and officials are assessing the demands made by the hijackers, Jaswant Singh said on Sunday morning.
"Demands that have come to us are under examination of the government," Singh told reporters after a meeting of the Crisis Management Group chaired by Vajpayee.
As UN official Erik de Mul arrived in Kandahar for discussions with the Taleban on Sunday, Singh said: "The government's position on terrorism is well known and our commitment to combating terrorism is also well known."
"The UN is not playing a mediatory or a negotiating role," he added. "The UN is on a humanitarian mission.'' Singh would not reveal what the mission was about, and de Mul returned to Islamabad where he is based at the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Sunday night.
Meanwhile, Flight 814 was refuelled this evening, an official at Kandahar airport told rediff.com
There are indications that the Taleban would like the Indian Airlines aircraft to leave Afghanistan territory, ''because the Indians are taking too much time to resolve the issue.'' However, the Kandahar airport official said there is currently no activity around the aircraft.
He revealed that the hijackers have also asked the Kandahar airport authorities for jet engine oil. A pilot in Bombay told rediff.com that the Airbus 300, which has made eight take offs and landings these last three days, may be in urgent need of oil to lubricate its engines. However, as Kandahar airport -- Afghanistan's largest -- does not have the jet engine oil in stock, the Taliban regime has sought it from elsewhere.
The hijackers earlier conveyed to de Mul their unwillingness to release the 156 crew members and passengers unless the Indian government concedes their demands.
The hijackers have demanded the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, who is currently lodged in the high security wing of Delhi's Tihar jail.
Only 20 Taliban soldiers are currently posted around the plane, the Kandahar airport official said this evening. "Our government does not want the plane on our soil and wants it to leave as soon as possible, but the hijackers are adamant."
Pakistan Television announced this evening that the Pakistan government will permit an Indian Airlines Airbus 320 to fly through Pakistani airspace en route to Kandahar. The plane, which has been parked at Delhi airport all day on Sunday, is meant to be a relief vehicle for the passengers aboard Flight 814.
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