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The BBC's Gavin Hewitt
"Police are conducting further interviews"
 real 28k

Home Secretary Jack Straw
"Nobody should consider that there can be any benefit obtained by hijacking"
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Claude Moraes, Labour MEP
"Situation is complex"
 real 28k

Saturday, 12 February, 2000, 07:12 GMT
Former hostages to leave Stansted

Policeman watches the plane Police have been searching the Ariana plane

Passengers from the hijacked Afghan airliner are being moved from Stansted to an immigration centre in Gloucestershire.

A total of 142 ex-hostages will leave their London hotel at 1300 GMT on Saturday for the government-owned Moreton-in-Marsh Fire Service College.

hostage at window More ex-hostages are expected to apply for asylum
The 22 people who have been arrested in connection with the hijacking will not travel with them.

A charter plane is ready at nearby Brize Norton in Oxfordshire to fly home those passengers and crew who are not claiming asylum.

Only 37 of the former hostages have indicated they want to return home.

But the Home Office said a number of the passengers had not yet made up their mind whether they want to return to Afghanistan or claim political asylum.

So far, 74 of the 164 people originally on the hijacked plane have claimed asylum.

"The Afghans being accommodated in Moreton-in-Marsh are there in respect of immigration law and are not facing any criminal charges," said Cotswold and Stroud divisional commander superintendent Adrian Grimmitt.

Hotel The hotel where the passengers have been staying
Immigration officers will interview the ex-hostages over the next few days in Gloucestershire.

The International Organisation for Migration, which chartered the plane to take passengers back home, said the aircraft could remain in the UK into next week.

Representative Diane Grammer said: "There are no other planes going to Afghanistan so this one will not depart until we are sure that everyone who wants to go back, goes back."

The passengers' plane stood at Stansted airport in Essex for four days before the crisis ended with the hijackers' surrender on Thursday morning.

Groups representing refugees and asylum-seekers have called on Home Secretary Jack Straw not to deport the 60 adults and 14 children wanting to stay in the UK.

But Mr Straw said on Thursday he wanted to see all 150 people who were on board the Ariana Boeing 727 removed from the country "as soon as is practicably possible".

'Desperate act'

A special "fast-track" procedure is to be used in the hope that all the passengers could be returned to Afghanistan or to an alternative third country, Mr Straw announced.

But refugee agencies have warned it could take many months before each case is decided.

The Refugee Council's chief executive Nick Hardwick said those involved in the hijack should face serious charges.

But he added that their relatives risked death if they returned to Afghanistan, whose Taleban government is widely condemned for its human rights record.

"The truth is this is a desperate act by desperate men, desperate to get their families to safety," he said.

And Amnesty International said it was writing to the Home Secretary "at the earliest opportunity" to express its concern over the possible fate of the passengers.

'Death sentence'

A senior Taleban leader has announced that the hijackers of the airliner face execution if they return home.

General Rahmatullah Safi, who was at the airport throughout the negotiations to end the hijacking, said those involved must be punished, either in a British or an Afghan court.

If they were returned to Kabul, he said, they would be tried under strict Islamic (Sharia) law - and if found guilty they would be sentenced to death.

The former hostages, having undergone initial health and security checks, have been staying at the four-star Hilton Hotel near Stansted.

The passengers began their ordeal on Sunday during an internal flight in Afghanistan. The plane was subsequently flown across Central Asia and Russia before landing at Stansted early on Monday.

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See also:
11 Feb 00 |  UK
The troubled life of an asylum seeker
11 Feb 00 |  UK
Hijackers and hostages face asylum process
11 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Afghan rights under spotlight
11 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Safety fears for hijack plane
10 Feb 00 |  South Asia
Analysis: Afghan hijack aftermath
10 Feb 00 |  UK
Hijack timetable
10 Feb 00 |  UK
Calm ending to hijack

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