Hijacked Plane Returns to Venezuela
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Fourteen people discovered in Colombia after their plane was hijacked in Venezuela more than a week ago were safe and in good health, Venezuela’s interior minister said.
The plane’s two-man crew flew it into the Venezuelan border town of Guasdualito Sunday afternoon, Ignacio Arcaya told reporters. The twin-engine Beechcraft had been hijacked July 30 and taken into Colombia’s Arauca state.
Colombia’s largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, promised to free the passengers, although it insisted it had not hijacked the flight.
The passengers would be returned to Venezuela shortly, Arcaya said.
A woman claiming to represent the FARC said one of its guerrilla units discovered the downed plane near the border with Venezuela a day after it disappeared.
The plane’s hijackers had fled the scene in Arauca, and the FARC held the passengers while it investigated the hijacking, said the woman, who did not identify herself as she read a statement from the group to Colombia’s Radionet radio.
Adolfo Fuentes, legal adviser to Venezuela’s Avior Airlines, told the Colombian TV news program TV-Hoy that the passengers were on their way to Venezuela, but he did not specify when they would arrive or how.
The FARC statement blamed the hijacking on opponents of Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez. It said the passengers would be released unconditionally but did not specify when.
However, a Colombian police chief accused the 15,000 member rebel group of planning and carrying out the hijacking.
``This can’t be attributed to any other group. The FARC carried out this execrable crime,″ said Arauca state police chief Luis Eduardo Tafur.
The plane disappeared during a 25-minute domestic flight from the southwestern Venezuelan city of Barinas to Guasdualito. It was originally said to have 16 people, all Venezuelan, on board.
Search crews had been unable to locate the aircraft. Colombian and Venezuelan military officials previously accused a different rebel group, the National Liberation Army, or ELN, of hijacking the flight. The ELN also denied any role.
The ELN is still holding 16 of 41 people it seized from a Colombian plane in April and is demanding ransom for them.
U.S officials have recently expressed concern that Colombia’s 35-year civil conflict was spilling over the nation’s borders, posing a regional security threat.