Whitehall hints at Algiers sanctions
Amid British Government anger over fears that the Kuwait Airways hijackers may go free, strong hints were given yesterday that international action against Algeria will be considered.
All flights to Algeria by the world's seven most powerful Western nations could be stopped if Algiers failed to prosecute them, sources said.
The talk reflected the Government's anger and frustration over the Algerian authorities' reluctance to reveal the terms of a deal with the hijackers. Meanwhile, the Kuwaiti Government is understood to have told Britain that the deal was between Algiers and the hijackers, and that it does not have all the details.
In Algiers, official sources said that the gunmen involved in the hijack slipped out of the rear door of the Kuwait Airways Boeing 747 before the 31 hostages were freed.
Western diplomatic sources said that several of the seven Western nations, including Britain, gave Algeria what amounted to warning before the deal was concluded.
They drew Algiers' attention to a declaration on hijacking made by the US, the UK, Japan, Canada, West Germany, France and Italy at Bonn in July 1978. It said: “Where a country refuses the …prosecution of those who have hijacked an aircraft …the (Summit Seven) Governments shall take immediate steps to cease all flights to that country …(and) will initiate action to halt all incoming flights from that country.”
Whitehall sources said that the Government would seek discussions among the seven, and also within the EEC political cooperation Committee and the International Civil Aviation Association, to establish the facts.
The Times understands that Britain is likely to call for the Bonn Declaration to be invoked if present suspicions about the nature of the deal are confirmed. The seven countries reaffirmed their commitment to the declaration at Tokyo in 1986 and at Venice last June.
Ministers showed dismay yesterday after receiving preliminary reports suggesting that the hijackers would not be brought to justice. They have been fearing such an outcome since Cyprus allowed the plane to leave Larnaca.
A statement issued on behalf of Mrs Thatcher said: “Those responsible ought without question to be brought to justice. If terrorists are allowed to escape unpunished, it will only lead to more hijacking and more hostage-taking.”
Downing Street made it clear that, while Mrs Thatcher was relieved that the remaining hostages were safe, it could not be forgotten that a vicious act of terrorism had taken place with the cold-blooded murder of two people.
Mr David Mellor, Minister of State at the Foreign Office, said: “Those glimpses that we have of the arrangement so far reveal at least one aspect to be entirely unsatisfactory, and that is that the hijackers apparently have been allowed to get away scot-free.
“They are going to do it again, and the world community cannot possibly applaud an outcome that has allowed that to happen.”
Mr Mellor added: “A number of countries who are as dedicated as we are to the fight against international terror will want to discuss this.”
He said no one should underestimate the Government's concern. Many people would find it “utterly repugnant” if the hijackers went free, Earlier he said: “The idea that they will go back to hew wood and draw water in quiet obscurity is a nonsense. They will do it again.”
The anger of the Reagan Administration was reflected by Mr George Shultz, the US Secretary of State. He said in Helsinki, en route to talks in Moscow, that letting them go free would violate international standards and would not be “a proper thing to do”. But he stopped short of the hints of action emerging in London.