Two Libyan fighter jet pilots have defected to Malta, by landing without permission on the runway of the island’s commercial airport.
The pilots, who are reportedly both colonels in the Libyan Air Force, are claiming asylum, after allegedly refusing orders to bomb protestors in Benghazi.
The aircraft, which landed at 16:30 local time, are French manufactured Dassault Mirage F-1 fighters.
The Mirage pilots reportedly only made contact with the airport control tower after they had landed on the commercial runway.
Protests in Libya have escalated since the removal of Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, strenghening popular resolve against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
Hundreds of civilian protestors have been killed in clashes with pro-government forces in Tripoli and Benghazi within the past week, according to media reports.
The Mirage F-1 entered French service in 1973, and is still in French service today. It was also exported to Libya, Spain, Morocco, Iran, Iraq, Jordan and several other countries.
The F-1 jet aircraft is a second generation, Mach 2.2 capable, fighter aircraft, which was originally developed in the 1960s.
Two French-registered Super Puma civilian helicopters also landed in Malta, around the same time, reportedly carrying seven French employees of an Italian firm working in Libya.
All the passengers, who have landed without permission, are being temporarily held within Malta’s airport.