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The BBC's Samantha Simmonds
"India says it's examining the demands of the hijackers"
 real 28k

Peter Gould reporting
"The BBC has received the first pictures of the plane"
 real 28k

BBC's Daniel Lak
"They've given all the information they can to officials there"
 real 28k

The BBC's Kate Clark in Kandahar
"The Taleban are unhappy with what they see as Indian inaction"
 real 28k

Sunday, 26 December, 1999, 17:34 GMT
Hijackers free passenger

Sleeping relative For some the wait for news continues at Delhi airport

One passenger has been released from the hijacked Indian Airlines plane at Kandahar airport in southern Afghanistan.

Officials from the ruling Taleban were quoted as saying the passenger - who has not been named - had been freed as a sign of goodwill after the hijackers spoke by radio to a senior United Nations official at the scene.

India has asked us to be helpful on the humanitarian side. It is not our intention to take over the negotiations.
Fred Eckhard
UN spokesman
The release is the first since hijackers freed 27 hostages and the body of one slain passenger during a stopover in the United Arab Emirates on Friday.

It comes after Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh said his government was examining the hijackers' demands, and leaves 160 passengers and crew on board the Airbus A300.

India's high commissioner in Pakistan said the released passenger was an Indian man who had briefly been allowed off the aircraft late on Saturday for treatment of his diabetes.

UN co-ordinator for Afghanistan Erik de Mul flew into Kandahar early on Sunday to help deal with the crisis, which is now into its third day.

Click here to see a map of the hijacked plane's route

Both India and the UN have said he is not mandated to negotiate with the gunmen, and is there only to provide humanitarian assistance.

But the Taleban have no experience of dealing with hijacks, and the BBC's Daniel Lak in Delhi says India's ability to deal with the crisis is hampered by its lack of diplomatic ties with the Taleban.

Both India and the ruling Taleban authorities in Afghanistan - whose headquarters are in Kandahar - had asked the UN to help end the hijack ordeal, which began on Friday.

Hijackers' demands

The A300 Airbus has been on the tarmac at the city's airport, surrounded by heavily armed security guards, since landing early on Saturday morning

The hijackers are refusing to leave, demanding the release from an Indian jail of Maulana Masood Azhar - a leading figure in the Kashmiri separatist movement.

Hijack timeline
24 Dec 1055 GMT: Plane leaves Kathmandu
1130 GMT: Hijackers demand to be flown to Lahore, Pakistan
1331 GMT: Plane lands at Amritsar, India
1437 GMT: Plane lands at Lahore without Pakistani permission.
2010 GMT: Plane lands at Al-Minhad military air base near Dubai, UAE
25 Dec 0055 GMT: Some hostages released and plane takes off
0303 GMT: Plane lands at Kandahar, Afghanistan

One of the hijackers is understood to be the brother of Azhar.

Some reports say the hijackers, who have threatened to blow up the plane, have also demanded the release of several Kashmiri fighters being held in Indian jails.

At least one passenger has been killed - Indian businessman, Rupin Katyal, who was returning from his honeymoon. His bride is one of the passengers still on board.

His body was taken off the plane in Dubai, where some passengers were released in exchange for fuel.

In Afghanistan, the hijackers, who are said to be armed with grenades, pistols and knives, have shown no sign of surrendering further hostages.

The gang took control of the plane as it flew from Kathmandu, in Nepal, to the Indian capital, Delhi.

India will never be cowed down by such barbaric acts
Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee

They ordered it to land briefly in Amritsar before flying to Lahore in Pakistan and landing without permission.

In Lahore it refuelled and flew to Dubai, where again it was refuelled before flying to Afghanistan where it has remained since 0300 GMT on 25 December.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has said his government would not bow to pressure from terrorists.

India has previously refused a similar demand to free the Pakistan-born scholar made after six Western tourists were kidnapped while trekking in Kashmir's Pahalgam district. One of them was killed, one escaped and the other four are presumed to be dead.

Brief reunion

The released passengers who returned to India said they had been forbidden from looking at the hijackers' faces.

According to one account, Mr Katyal was killed because he disobeyed.

The freed hostages included one man with stab wounds. Their accounts of the ordeal suggested that three of the hijackers were Kashmiris, one a Nepali and one an Afghan.

The released passengers were flown from Dubai to Delhi, where they were met by anxious relatives who have camped at the city's international airport since news of the hijack first became known.

After a brief reunion the freed passengers were taken away by police, who hope they will provide information that may help end the standoff.

All of the released hostages were Indians, as are most of those still on the plane. But there are also eight Nepalese, one Canadian, one American, four Swiss, four Spaniards, one Belgian, one Japanese, one Australian, two French and one Italian.

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See also:
26 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Anger over handling of hijack
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Profile: Maulana Masood Azhar
26 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Despair and delight in Delhi
26 Dec 99 |  South Asia
In pictures: The Indian Airlines hijack
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Chronology of a hijack
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Hijacked plane lands in Afghanistan
24 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Hijack negotiations in Dubai
25 Dec 99 |  South Asia
Airport ordeal for relatives

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