OT Italian plane, crew held in Jordan after violation of UN sanctions

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By JAMAL HALABY, Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan (April 5, 2000 12:17 p.m. EDT http://www.nandotimes.com) - Jordanian authorities impounded a small Italian plane and detained its pilot Wednesday for violating U.N. sanctions by flying in and out of Baghdad. Two European activists on board were allowed to leave Jordan.

Information Minister Saleh Qallab said the Italian-made P68 landed at an air force base in Azraq, 75 miles northeast of the Jordanian capital Amman. The Azraq base is off-limits to journalists.

"The crew and the plane were grounded" for violating U.N. sanctions that ban flights in and out of Iraq, Qallab told The Associated Press.

Later, Qallab said two passengers who were on board when the small plane reached Jordan left aboard a commercial Austrian airline bound for Vienna.

Qallab identified the two as Italian businessman Nicola Grauso and European Parliament member Vittori Sgarbi. He said a third person, French Catholic priest Jean-Marie Benjamin, remained in Baghdad.

He said the pilot, Claudio Castonia, was taken in for interrogation and may be tried in Jordan for violating aviation regulations.

International flights to and from Iraq are banned under U.N. sanctions imposed after Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, which led to the Persian Gulf War.

Qallab earlier had said Jordan would refuse the plane stopover permission because its crew had "cheated" Jordanian aviation authorities on Monday by asking permission to fly to Syria but changing course in Syrian airspace and flying to Iraq.

In Italy, Grauso's spokesman, Mario Cardona, said Jordanian air force jets had forced the plane to land at Azraq.

Iraqi officials saw off the plane at Rasheed air base earlier Wednesday, the official Iraqi News Agency reported. It had arrived at the base Monday.

While in the capital, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz and other officials received the visitors, who had said their journey was meant to highlight Iraqi suffering caused by the sanctions. They also visited Baghdad hospitals.

Sanctions can be lifted only once U.N. inspectors verify Iraq no longer has weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles or the ability to produce them.

-- viewer (justp@ssing.by), April 05, 2000

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