February 27, 2011 / 8:00 PM / in 8 years

Libyan plane brought pilots to Malta to return jets

VALLLETTA (Reuters) - A Libyan Arab Airlines plane refused permission to land in Malta this week was carrying pilots to fly back to Libya two fighter jets flown to the island by defecting pilots, Malta’s premier said Sunday.

Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi told a press conference that Malta had rejected a Libyan government request to return the Mirage fighter jets, flown to Malta last Monday. They remain under armed guard at Malta airport.

The pilots, both colonels, told authorities in Malta they and been ordered to bomb demonstrators protesting against the 41-year rule of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

They have sought political asylum and their request is under consideration, Maltese officials said.

There have been sketchy reports of Libyan air power being used against civilians in the violent crackdown that has killed many hundreds — something one of Gaddafi’s sons denied.

Reporting by Chris Scicluna in Malta, Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton

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