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Nicaragua-Bound Grounded Flight Leaves France for Mumbai

Nicaragua-Bound Grounded Flight Leaves France for Mumbai

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NEW DELHI, Dec 25: The Nicaragua-bound Airbus A340 with 303 passengers, most of them Indians, which was grounded at an airport near Paris on allegation of human trafficking, finally left for Mumbai on Monday, French media reports said.

The departure comes after hours of confusion over the plane’s status amid reports that many on board did not want to return to their home nations. “The situation is confusing,” Liliana Bakayoko, legal counsel for Romania’s Legend Airlines, to whom the plane is registered, said. “Some of the passengers were unhappy… because they wanted to continue their journey to Nicaragua as planned.”

She said the plane would reach its destination late on Monday or early Tuesday pointing out that the necessary clearances had been obtained from French authorities. She indicated then only 200-250 passengers had consented to return. These, she said, would include those who were not in police custody or had not appealed to French for asylum.

At least two passengers are among those who were not been authorised to leave and have, it is believed, been detained. A dozen others have sought asylum; their status is not known at this time.

The two may be charged with conspiring to help undocumented foreigners enter the country. Reports indicate that some passengers spoke Tamil and some Hindi. The two not authorised to leave were reportedly asked “to verify” if their role “may have been different than the others in this transport, and under what conditions and with what objectives.”

The flight – a charter service from Dubai – had landed at the airport, which is around 160 km from Paris, to refuel. It was then grounded after a tip-off that some passengers were “likely to be victims of human trafficking.” Sources said the plane could be part of a crime syndicate trying to smuggle people into the United States via the Central American country.

France’s anti-organised crime unit, JUNALCO, is now leading investigations. Human trafficking carries a potential sentence of up to 20 years in France. On Sunday authorities had said the plane could leave. This was after local judges questioned all those on board. Under French law foreign nationals can be detained for extended periods on arrival. “We are very relieved. We were impatiently waiting for this,” Ms Bakayoko had said then.

Indian citizens on board have been given consular access, and the Indian government has said it was working with its French counterpart to resolve the situation. The passengers were provided makeshift beds, food and water, and access to toilets and showers, at the airport itself, officials said.

(Manas Dasgupta)

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