Libya defectors: Pilots told to bomb protesters flee to Malta
As Muammar Gadaffi’s ambassadors and most of Libya’s UN mission resign, two air force pilots escape rather than obey orders
By John Hooper in Rome and Ian Black
Two high-ranking Libyan air force pilots have who fled to Malta in their aircraft are reported to have told officials they escaped rather than carry out orders to bomb civilians.
The officers defected as Libyan diplomats in several countries and international organisations resigned in protest at the regime’s violent response to the deepening crisis. They included Muammar Gaddafi’s ambassadors to China, India, Indonesia and Poland, as well as Libya’s representative to the Arab League and most, if not all, of its mission at the United Nations.
Omar Jelban, head of the London People’s Bureau, flatly denied an al-Jazeera report he too had quit. Jelban was earlier called to the Foreign Office to hear what William Hague, the foreign secretary, called “our absolute condemnation of the use of lethal force against demonstrators”.
The two Mirage F1 jets touched down in Malta after the pilots said they urgently needed to refuel and sought emergency clearance to land. The Times of Malta reported on its website the pilots had told officials they flew to the island after being ordered to bomb protesters occupying Libya’s second-biggest city of Benghazi.
One report said they had also brought with them two other members of the Libyan armed forces. The pilots – both colonels – said that, after taking off from Okba Ben Nafi base, they flew low through Libyan air space to avoid radar detection.