Congressman Says American Pilot To Be Freed By Angola This Weekend
WASHINGTON (AP) _ An American pilot held in Angola since his plane strayed over the African nation two months ago is expected to be released this weekend, says Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa.
Murtha called the father of pilot Joseph Longo on Tuesday to tell him that an agreement had been reached between the Angolans and the U.S. government.
″I have no idea about how he’s coming home, where he’s going or who is going to take him,″ Bernie Longo said in a telephone interview. ″All I know is that the transfer has been agreed to. That was the word I heard - ’transfer.‴
Noting several earlier disappointments, the father said: ″This is like the boy with the lambs crying wolf. This seems a little more believable because he talks about an agreement.″
Bill Allen, spokesman for Murtha, said word of the agreement to free Longo, 33, came from Rep. Howard Wolpe, D-Mich., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee that deals with African issues.
″I don’t know that the details of the release have been worked out yet,″ Allen said. ″Our No. 1 goal has been to get Joe Longo out, and now we want to do it as smoothly as possible.″
Allen said a congressional delegation might be dispatched to Angola, where Longo’s Beechcraft was forced down April 21. Longo had been hired by Pilot International in Wichita, Kan., to deliver the plane to a South African firm.
Murtha’s announcement followed a series of negotiations which saw Angolan officials talking at varying times with lawmakers, the State Department and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.
Jackson had said during a speech Friday night that the vice minister of foreign affairs had agreed to release Longo on condition that Jackson travel to Angola bring him back. Jackson, an unannounced presidential candidate, said that condition was later dropped.
Frank Watkins, a Jackson spokesman, said Tuesday that Jackson, too, ″does not know the details of the release. The best we could come by was that it is imminent.″
The negotiations over Longo came as Angola sent a delegation here for private talks on the Reagan administration’s position toward the Marxist Angolan government and U.S. support for the rebel forces there.
Despite the talks, which ended last week, the two countries do not have diplomatic relations. Italian officials offered to act as go-betweens to check on Longo’s condition, but a meeting was never approved by the Angolans.
The elder Longo said Tuesday that he and the firm that owns the plane had put up an undisclosed sum of money to pay for the pilot’s trip home.
During the talks about Longo, American lawmakers said they could not understand why he was being held and insisted he was not involved in any government operations.