Aliyev Frees Russian Cargo Plane But Not MiGs

BAKU (Reuters)–Azerbaijan’s President Haydar Aliyev on Tuesday ordered the release of a Russian cargo aircraft and four crew members detained in Baku earlier this month–a senior presidential adviser said.

But six MiG fighter jets that were on board the giant Antonov An-124–known as a Ruslan–and 30 passengers will remain in the ex-Soviet republic–where the plane was impounded on March 19 when it stopped to refuel.

"The Russian cargo plane Ruslan and its crew will be released–but the cargo and the remaining passengers will stay here under investigation," said Vafa Guluzade–Aliyev’s foreign policy adviser.

Guluzade told Reuters Aliyev had decided to release the plane at the request of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov–who met the president in the capital of the oil-producing state on Monday.

The Azeri Security Ministry opened a criminal investigation over the transportation of the six Kazakh-owned MiG fighters after finding discrepancies between the customs documen’s–flight logs and passengers’ testimonies about the destination of the cargo.

Both Russia and Kazakhstan have denied an earlier statement by Azeri officials that the plane and its cargo had been bound for Yugoslavia in breach of an international arms embargo.

According to documen’s from the airplane it was heading for North Korea. But it was unclear why the plane–traveling from the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan–had ended up in Azerbaijan–which lies far to the west of both countries.

The question of whether Russia or another country has helped arm Yugoslavia is especially sensitive as NATO is involved in air strikes after Belgrade refused to sign a Kosovo peace deal. Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov was in Belgrade on Tuesday to try to seek a political deal that would halt the air strikes.

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