The much-expected return of the two Libyan air force jets to Libya from Malta has been delayed by the weather, in both Malta and Libya.

The jets were to fly off this morning, exactly on the anniversary since they arrived here unexpectedly after their pilots refused to bomb fellow Libyans in Benghazi.

The same pilots were this morning handed their helmets by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi in a symbolic ceremony in the AFM Air Wing hangar.

The ceremony was attended by Libyan Health Minister Hamrush who said this was a moment of pride for the two nations. She thanked Malta for having taken the brave decision to keep the fighter jets in Malta during the uprising.

Dr Gonzi described the ceremony as an emotional one and said the departure of the jets was closing an important chapter in the histories of Libya and Malta.

He noted that Malta had taken tough decisions in giving shelter to the defecting pilots at the same time as an Air Malta aircraft was on the tarmac in Tripoli. Malta had also refused to receive a Libyan delegation which had been coming to Malta to reclaim the jets, 24 hours after the Mirages arrived. This was at a time when the UN had still not decided on any sanctions against Libya, he said.

Today's ceremony, he said, was also a tribute to the courage of those two pilots who were a symbol of the courage of the Libyan people who rose and fought for their freedom.

He said Malta and Libya shared common values, including respect for human dignity. This ceremony, he said, also marked the opening of a new chapter of relations between the two countries.

AFM Commander Martin Xuereb said the AFM had been prepared to ensure that Gaddafi forces were not allowed to fly the aircraft from Malta. He said the pilots were a symbol of defiance and he was pleased that the AFM had played an important role in this issue - also hosting and protecting the pilots.

This morning's ceremony was also attended by members of the Libyan community in Malta waving placards in support of the uprising.

The two jets have undergone intensive maintenance which was concluded yesterday with high speed engine tests.

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