Colombia Hijacking Ends, Passengers Freed

September 12, 2005

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All passengers and crew on a small Colombian airliner hijacked on Monday were freed unharmed hours after two men who said they had a bomb forced it to land at a military airport in Bogota, authorities said.

Authorities were interviewing the hijackers, one of whom was wheelchair-bound, on board the plane after the passengers and crew, numbering more than 20, left the aircraft.

The propeller plane, which was owned by Colombian company Aires, was hijacked while on a flight from Florencia in the province of Caqueta to Bogota.

The hijackers had demanded to speak with state human rights and law enforcement officials. Witnesses said they had threatened to blow up the plane with a bomb they said was hidden under the seat of the wheelchair.

"Thank God it turned out all right," one of the passengers, Reinado Duque, told local radio.

Colombian television showed images of some of the passengers stepping out of the blue-and-white plane.

One of the passengers was Congressman Luis Antonio Serrano, police said.

In 2002, Colombia's leftist FARC rebels hijacked a commercial airliner also from the Aires company, a move that led to a breakdown in peace talks between the guerrillas and the government.

Thousands die every year in Colombia's 41-year-old war that pits leftist guerrillas against the state and illegal far-right paramilitary militias.

(Reuters)