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PICTURE: Libyan pilots flee to Malta in armed Mirage F1s

The two Libyan Arab Air Force Dassault Mirage F1 fighters that landed at Malta international airport on 21 February were armed with unguided rocket pods and had not sought permission to arrive in the Mediterranean nation.

Local reports suggest that the air force pilots fled Libya after having been instructed to perform air strikes against protestors in the country's second city, Benghazi, in a bid to quell growing civil unrest against the rule of Col Muammar Gaddafi.

The Times of Malta - which hosts video footage of the event - says the single-seat Mirage F1s touched down at around 16:30 local time. "The pilots only made contact with the control tower once they had landed on the commercial runway," it says.

© Reuters

Images of the arriving aircraft identify them as F1ED-standard fighters carrying the registrations 502 and 508. These were delivered to Libya in 1978, says Flightglobal's MiliCAS database. It lists the nation's air force as still having around 22 Mirage F1s in its inventory, although the majority of these are believed to not be in an operational condition.

The pair are shown carrying Matra-produced 68mm rocket pods.

Libya also operates Russian-supplied Mikoyan MiG-21s, MiG-23s and Sukhoi Su-22 and Su-24 combat aircraft, says MiliCAS.

Two French-registered civil helicopters also landed at the airport yesterday after having fled the violence in Libya.

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