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Originally published Tuesday, March 1, 2011 at 7:18 AM

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Malta refusing to return Libyan fighter jets

Malta said Tuesday it was refusing to return two Libyan fighter jets that landed on the island last week after their pilots defected.

The Associated Press

VALLETTA, Malta —

Malta said Tuesday it was refusing to return two Libyan fighter jets that landed on the island last week after their pilots defected.

The Maltese government refused to let a plane land in Malta last Wednesday because the passengers included two Libyan pilots who had been sent to fly the Mirage jets back to Libya, said Martin Bugelli, head of information for the prime minister's office.

He said the Maltese government was now abiding by a U.N. arms embargo imposed on Moammar Gadhafi and his family on Sunday.

The two Mirages landed at Malta's airport on Feb. 21 and their pilots asked for political asylum amid Gadhafi's bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Initially, the Libyan government asked for the jets back, and on Wednesday sent a plane carrying two pilots to fly them home, Bugelli said.

The Maltese government had previously acknowledged that it had refused to let that plane land, amid reports that Gadhafi's daughter was on board. On Tuesday, Bugelli said the reason was because the passengers included the two pilots.

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