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December 27, 1999
No breakthrough in talks with hijackers
Indian negotiators, who flew into Kandahar on Monday evening aboard a relief Airbus A300 aircraft, met with one of the hijackers holding 160 people hostage on Indian Airlines Flight 814. No progress has been reported in the talks to resolve the 80-hour crisis.
The hijacker, presumably Harkat-ul Ansar leader Maulana Masood Ansar's kinsman, emerged from the Airbus to meet with the seven member Indian team. UN official Erick de Mul was present at the talks which went on till early Tuesday. It is not known if any Taleban representative was present at the negotiations. The hijackers are demanding the release of Maulana Masood and some other Kashmiri separatists.
One report from Delhi said the hijackers had demanded that Indian Airlines technicians repair the plane's damaged engine when the talks were on.
Earlier, after arriving from Delhi, the seven-member team met with Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel, who has been critical of the Indian government's pace in resolving the crisis, and United Nations officials. After the talks, held in the airport lounge, the delegation moved to the control tower along with Taliban officials, from where they have engaged the hijackers in negotiations.
On board the relief aircraft were a seven-member negotiating team, three cockpit crew (one pilot, one co-pilot and one engineer), a 10 member cabin crew, two doctors and a nurse, and seven engineers and technicians to repair the damaged Airbus 300. Among the seven-member negotiating team are Vivek Katju, who is in charge of the Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan desk at the ministry of external affairs, four home ministry officials, and two members of the Cabinet secretariat.
The flight to Kandahar was delayed by the need to procure a fuel injection part for the damaged Airbus from Bombay. The plane is packed with food, blankets, medicines and water. The flight returned to Delhi briefly after take-off because the Pakistan government did not grant it permission to overfly its air space. On Sunday, the Pakistan government had permitted India to use its airspace to convey relief supplies for the hostages aboard Flight 814.
After Monday evening's Cabinet meeting, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pramod Mahajan told reporters that his government had no time frame to end the hijacking. "Let them (the delegation) talk," he said. "Then they will come back. Then the government can respond. No mandate has been given to them."
Meanwhile, the UN says it will not be a party to the negotiations between the hijackers and the Indian government because the latter has not asked it to mediate in the crisis. New Delhi is wary of direct third party mediation in any dispute involving Jammu and Kashmir, however distant the connection.
But India has asked the UN to use its good offices with the Taleban and help passengers who may need medical assistance. On Sunday, Erick de Mul from the UN Coordination Office for Humanitarian Affairs in Islamabad, who visited Kandahar at the behest of the Indian government, persuaded the hijackers to release Anil Khurana, a diabetic passenger in need of urgent medical attention. Khurana was flown to Islamabad by a UN aircraft on Monday and is recovering in an Islamabad hospital. de Mul has stayed on in the Afghan city for a second day now, and provided his assessment of the situation to the Indian delegation this evening.
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