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Feb 21, 2011 | 18:52 GMT

2 mins read

Libyan Aircraft Land in Malta

BEN BORG CARDONA/AFP/Getty Images
Two Libyan air force fighter jets and two helicopters reportedly landed unexpectedly at a Maltese airstrip Feb. 21. Details are still emerging, but there are reports that Libyan pilots who reportedly refused orders to target civilians were given permission to land in Malta after requesting asylum. There are several possibilities. The aircraft could simply have been flown by defectors taking advantage of the situation to flee the country, particularly if they perceived the course of events going against their interests. But their motivations could have been more personal than political, not based on anything representative of current social and political tensions. However, combined with other recent developments, there is also the possibility that the two helicopters indicate that significant personalities — some reports have suggested French nationals — with visibility into the status on the ground are fleeing the country. And this raises the questions: Have certain individuals with insight into the deepening crisis decided that now is the time to leave the country, and are they doing so as part of an emergency escape plan on military aircraft? Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's al-Qaddhafa tribe reportedly dominates the Libyan air force, and if the fighter pilots were of this tribe, it would not bode well for regime survival. At the moment, no single piece of information out of Libya is verifiable or particularly reliable. But taken as a whole, a mounting tide of news indicates a rapidly deteriorating security situation and that divisions within the regime are beginning to manifest themselves, with military force being directed against military force.

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