- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 1999

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan As 160 passengers still trapped on a hijacked Indian Airlines jet sat in deteriorating conditions yesterday, a United Nations official negotiated with the captors for more than an hour, securing the release of just one passenger.

Troops from Afghanistan's ruling Taleban militia delivered food to passengers and reported that the air in the plane "is very bad … it smells like people have been sick," said Mohammed Khiber, a civil aviation authority spokesman.

The shades in the plane remained drawn and the engines were running, Afghani officials said.

The plane, which landed Saturday in Kandahar after making brief stops in India, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, was surrounded in the late afternoon by several Taleban vehicles. Soldiers, who had earlier circled the aircraft, had been removed.

Erick de Mul, the U.N. coordinator for Afghanistan, negotiated with the hijackers by radio for more than an hour yesterday. He managed only to secure the release of an Indian passenger, identified as Anil Khurana.

Mr. Khurana, a diabetic who had required medical treatment a day earlier, was the first passenger released since the captors freed 27 hostages and unloaded the body of one slain passenger during a stopover in the United Arab Emirates on Friday.

Appearing gaunt and tired, Mr. Khurana refused to speak to reporters and buried his head beneath a blanket when a photographer tried to take his picture at the airport. Mr. Khurana has said he will not return to India until all the remaining passengers and crew, including his brother, are released.

The plane has been refueled and is free to leave, Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil told the Associated Press.

Mr. de Mul flew from Pakistan to the southern city of Kandahar, the Taleban headquarters, earlier yesterday. He is heading a three-person U.N. delegation there.

"The United Nations people negotiated with the hijackers but without any result," Mr. Muttawakil said.

Russia yesterday urged that a special session of the U.N. Security Council be held to discuss the hijacking. The earliest such a meeting could be held is today.

"It is necessary for the Security Council members to discuss the dangerous situation in the region," Russia's first deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Gennady Gatilov, told the Itar-Tass news agency.

The Taleban sought U.N. assistance after the hijackers demanded the release of Maulana Masood Azhar, a Pakistani religious leader, and several Kashmiri fighters. All are in prison in India.

India's ambassador to the United States, Naresh Chandra, told CNN yesterday that his government was keeping its options open, "but our policy not to negotiate with the terrorists in this kind of situation holds."

Indian officials have said there are five hijackers. Armed with grenades, pistols and knives, they seized the plane about 40 minutes after it took off from Nepal heading for New Delhi on Friday. It snaked across western Asia and into the Middle East, stopping at several airports and being turned away by several countries before making its latest stop in southern Afghanistan.

One of the hijackers is reportedly Azhar's brother and has been identified as Ibrahim.

In Pakistan, Azhar's father denied Ibrahim was involved, saying he was in Saudi Arabia performing the Islamic pilgrimage known as Umra.

The jet's engines remained running yesterday because the Taleban did not have the equipment needed to restart them if they were turned off, Afghani Aviation Minister Akhtar Manzoor said.

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