French Government, Air France Acting to Help in the Release of Hijacked Airline Passengers

French President Valery Giscard d’Eataing has ordered French officials to treat the 83 Israeli passengers aboard the hijacked Air France plane “the same as all other passengers, including the French.” In addition, an Air France source reported that the standing order is to give priority to the Israelis and some 100 Jews with French passports who were returning from a tour of Israel.

The French President, who is in San Juan, Puerto Rico attending the Western economic summit, telephoned his instructions last night to the Elysee Palace. Later, a high French official reiterated the President’s promise in a telephone call to the Israeli Embassy here.

Pierre Renard, the French Ambassador to Uganda, was today at Entebbe Airport near Kampala where Ugandan President Idi Amin personally negotiated with the hijackers who forced the plane to fly there after leaving Libya yesterday. Also present was the Palestine Liberation Organization representative in Kampala who was not named.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency bureau here telephoned the Presidential Palace in Kampala asking for Amin, but reached only a man identifying himself as a close advisor to the Ugandan President. He said, “We have not asked these people to come here but now that they are we shall treat then as our guests.”

When the JTA correspondent asked whether “the guests will be kept in Uganda or sent to their respective homes” the official said “well, this is quite a problem. It is a headache but President Amin will soon take a decision.”

The official refused to say what Amin will do with the 83 Israeli passengers on board. “They are his friends, everybody, except his enemies, is his friend,” the official said.

WANTS ALL PASSENGERS RELEASED

French sources, meanwhile, said Giscard decided to adopt a “high profile” in the hijacking negotiations and ordered the government to take the position that it will not accept the release only of the non-Israelis aboard the French airbus. These sources said that the plane left Benghazi, Libya, yesterday after France had made this position clear to Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi. The Libyan leader, these sources said, preferred to have the plane leave rather than free all the passengers as the French demanded.

The Air France plane, which took off yesterday morning from Ben Gurion Airport on a routine flight to Paris with 229 passengers, including 83 Israelis and 12 French crew members, has been since 2.30 this morning (Paris time) at Entebbe Airport. Unconfirmed reports said some of the passengers were allowed off the plane this morning by the hijackers with the authorization of the Ugandan authorities. One passenger, an ailing Englishwoman, was let off the plane during its stopover at Benghazi Airport.

French sources said the hijackers intended to land at Khartoum but were not given landing authorization. They said Sudanese President Gaffar Nimeiry is expected next month on an official visit in Paris and did not want to risk pleasing the French and releasing all the passengers and thus see himself branded as “a traitor to the Arab cause” or undermine his forthcoming trip to France.

The French government had a certain leverage in Libya and Sudan, Libya relies on France for spare parts for the Mirage planes in its air force while Sudan wants to improve its political ties with Western Europe and especially France. Unfortunately, in Uganda, France has little means available. Franco-Ugandan economic exchanges are practically non-existent and though the two countries have normal diplomatic ties, their relations are described here as “correct” but nothing more.

NO PANIC ABOARD

Immediately after the Air France plane landed at Entebbe, the French Ambassador arrived on the scene. Several hours later Amin himself also reached the airport.

An Entebbe control official told the JTA bureau here early this morning that the plane landed in complete darkness. He said there were no people at the airport which was lit by only a couple of searchlights rushed to the site. A couple of firemen’s cars and police trucks accompanied it along the tarmac.

Soon afterwards food and drink were brought to the passengers and the crew. The tower official told JTA, quoting Amin, that the passengers looked in “good health and seemed calm and at ease.” He said there was no panic aboard and the passengers remained calm during Amin’s stay. The official said the hijackers, believed to number five men, three of whom were Arabs, have not asked that the plane be refuelled.

Air France has already sent another plane, a Boeing 707 to Entebbe with a spare crew and a medical team. The Boeing’s seating capacity is slightly smaller than the 225 passengers carried by the airbus but Air France officials here told JTA that another plane, a Caravelle, will also take off for Uganda.

Meanwhile, negotiations continued through the afternnoon at Entebbe Airport between French officials, Ugandan authorities and some of the hijackers. An Air France spokesman here said the hijackers’ demands are still unknown. A document written in Arabic, said to explain the reasons for the hijack and contain demands, was handed over to Ugandan authorities but by late afternoon its contents had not been disclosed.

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