3 skyjackings puzzle Venezuela

Skyjackers claiming to be Puerto Rican separatists took over three Venezuelan airliners Dec. 7 and had them flown to Barranquilla, a coastal city in neighboring Colombia. At this writing, it was thought the skyjkackers were planning to take the three jets to Central America or Cuba.

Monitor Latin America correspondent James Nelson Goodsell writes that the skyjackers have given little information about themselves. They claim to be members of the Ramon Emeterio Betances Puerto Rican Independence Commandos, but those who have spoken with them indicate that they speak Spanish with Venezuelan accents.

It is entirely possible that they could be Puerto Ricans who have lived long enough in Venezuela to acquire a Venezuelan cast to their Spanish.

If the skyjackers are indeed Puerto Rican separatists, the seizure of the three jets is the latest in a series of dramatic incidents designed to spotlight the cause of independence from the United States for the Caribbean island.

In recent months, a number of independence groups on the island have stepped up their campaign of terror. They blacked out San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital , for 24 hours last month; have set off at least 30 bomb blasts against US and Puerto Rican government installations on the island; and begun a major propaganda leaflet campaign.

But there is no evidence they have attracted large-scale sympathy among Puerto Ricans.

The skyjackings involved two DC-9s and one Boeing 727, all belonging to Avensa, a domestic Venezuelan airline. There were an estimated 263 people on board the planes at Barranquilla - but one of the planes made a stopover at the Dutch Antilles island of Aruba, where 21 passengers were freed.

Another hijacking took place Monday when an armed man demanded that a Libyan Airways jet flying near Rome be taken to Beirut, said air traffic controllers.

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