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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 September, 2004, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Sudan asylum for hijack Eritreans
Passengers from the hijacked plane (picture: Sudanese TV)
The Eritreans said they feared persecution at home
Sudan has granted political asylum to 60 Eritreans who arrived in August after fellow fugitives hijacked their plane from Libya, the UN says.

They were among about 75 Eritreans being forcibly repatriated when some of them invaded the cockpit and diverted the Libyan-chartered plane.

Sudan jailed 15 of the group last week to five years, followed by deportation.

Eritrea, which strictly controls any emigration, has accused the Sudanese authorities of encouraging "terrorism".

According to human rights groups, Eritreans who are forcibly repatriated face detention and torture.

Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency in Geneva, said the Sudanese government had informed his office of its decision to grant asylum.

During the long years of conflict in Eritrea, hundreds of thousands of people sought refuge in neighbouring Sudan.

Three years ago, they began returning home under a scheme co-ordinated by the UN and the Eritrean government.

The UN says 4,402 Eritreans sought asylum in Europe and north America last year, a figure which has more than tripled since 2000.

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