Monday, February 21, 2011

Two Libyan fighter pilots defect, fly to Malta

Mon Feb 21, 2:24 pm ET

VALLETTA (Reuters) – Two Libyan Air Force fighter pilots defected on Monday and flew their jets to Malta where they told authorities they had been ordered to bomb protesters, Maltese government officials said.

They said the two pilots, both colonels, took off from a base near Tripoli. One of them has requested political asylum.

The pilots are being questioned by the Maltese police.

The two said they decided to fly to Malta after being ordered to bomb anti-government protesters in Libya's second largest city of Benghazi, the sources said.

Police were also questioning seven passengers who landed in European Union member state Malta from Libya on board two French-registered helicopters.

The government sources said the helicopters left Libya without authorization by the Libyan aviation authorities and that only one of the seven passengers -- who say they are French citizens -- had a passport.

A French Foreign Ministry spokesman could not immediately confirm the information as it was still being verified.

The four-decade rule of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has been shaken by days of violent protests which reached the capital Tripoli for the first time on Monday.

(Reporting by Christopher Scicluna; editing by Diana Abdallah)

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