Two Libyan Mirage F1s that were flown to Malta by defecting pilots in February last year have been symbolically handed over to Libyan military officials.
Senior members of the Libyan armed forces, led by army commander Major General Yousef el Mangoush, air force chief Brigadier Sager Adam al-Giroshi, navy chief Hassan Ali Abu Shnaq and special forces chief Abdessalam Mahmoud el-Hasi, arrived in Malta to pay a courtesy visit to Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi. During their visit on Monday the jets were symbolically handed back to Libya.
Gonzi described the two jets as a symbol of a new chapter in Libya’s history, as well as of the strong ties between the two countries. He promised that Malta would keep up its efforts to ensure that Libyan assets frozen in the wake of the revolution are unfrozen and returned to Libya as soon as possible, pointing out that some progress in that regard had already been made, the Malta Independent reports.
Although the two jets have been formally handed over, they will remain in Malta for a little while longer as they are in need of a major overhaul after sitting on the runway for nearly a year.
On January 9 a Libyan Air Cargo Antonov An-26 carrying Libyan personnel and equipment arrived in Malta to restore the aircraft to airworthy status. According to the Times of Malta, the aircraft may be flown back sometime next month, either on February 17, the day the Libyan uprising started, or February 21, when the aircraft were flown to Malta last year after their pilots refused orders to bomb civilians near Benghazi.
The F1s were armed with 68 mm unguided rocket pods. The Times of Malta reports that the aircraft were disarmed by Royal Air Force technicians soon after they landed, and were subsequently disabled by technicians from Dassault in spite of calls from the Gaddafi government to have them returned.
The pilots (Ali Al Rabti and Abdullah al Salheen) returned to Libya in September to a heroes’ welcome shortly after Tripoli was liberated.
On September 25 last year one of the Mirage F1s, on display at Malta International Airport as part of the Malta Airshow, had its all-green roundels replaced by the new Libyan colours during a ceremony carried out by Libyan Air Force Brigadier General Mohammed Rajab and the Libyan ambassador.
Rajab had flown to Malta aboard an Air Libya BAe 146, which during the fighting in Libya had been used on 32 covert flights to supply arms and ammunition and fly out wounded fighters.