|Eritrean 'hijackers' sentenced to five years in jail |
KHARTOUM, Sudan (Reuters) -- A Sudanese court sentenced 15 Eritreans to five years in jail followed by deportation Wednesday for hijacking a Libyan plane and forcing it to land in Khartoum.
The 15, part of a group of 76 asylum seekers aboard the plane, were charged under Sudan's counter-terrorism, criminal and civil aviation laws Monday.
"Their crime ... carries a maximum sentence of 14 years but the court took into consideration that it was not proved that the convicted men intended to commit an act of terrorism; rather, they rejected traveling to Asmara," Judge Mounir Mohamed al-Hassan told the court.
Sudanese officials said the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was investigating the eligibility of the remaining 61 Eritreans for refugee status.
The Eritreans were being deported from Libya and returned to the Eritrean capital of Asmara last week. Libya had denied them refugee status.
The 15 took control of the Libyan military transport plane Friday with objects that included a can opener, three razor blades and two lighters, the court previously said.
Seven of the men were questioned and confessed to forcing the plane to land in Khartoum but denied causing damage to the inside of the plane or hitting the crew, a court source previously said.
The crew said the hijackers had threatened to set the plane alight and had attacked them with their hands, the source added.
Eritrean government regulations forbid young people from leaving the country. Human rights groups say hundreds of Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers have been forcibly sent home, where many have faced torture and detention without charge or trial. Eritrea denies the allegations.
The UNHCR recommends that even failed asylum seekers are not forcibly returned to Eritrea.
Sudan has poor relations with neighboring Eritrea and has accused it of backing Sudanese rebel groups.