By George Grant.
Tripoli, 6 June:
The governments of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus are to appeal the conviction of 24 of their nationals imprisoned for providing military assistance to the Qaddafi regime during last year’s revolution.
On Monday, the men were found guilty of a number of offences, including the setting-up surface-to-air missile platforms to target NATO aircraft. 19 Ukrainians were sentence to ten years hard labour, along with three Belarusians and a Russian. A second Russian national, said to be the coordinator of the group, was given life imprisonment.
“We respect the Libyan court, but we do not agree with the verdict”, said Oleg Nikolenko, First Secretary at the Ukrainian Embassy in Tripoli. “We do not believe the men are guilty. We want the decision to be reviewed and for the Libyan court to make another decision. We will appeal the verdict”.
Nikolenko added that the Ukrainians had come to Libya on their own initiative, and were in no way working for, or being directed by, the Ukrainian government at the time. “Ukraine supported the Libyan revolution”, he added. “We have been giving our support to the new government since October, including sending humanitarian supplies and taking a number of revolutionaries for medical treatment in Kiev. We also sent a medical team to Misrata in October”.
Ilya Samomin, head of the consular section at the Russia Embassy, said: “The Embassy and the defendants’ legal team are preparing the paperwork that is necessary for lodging an appeal. I hope both men will be released soon”.
Russia is known to have been deeply ambivalent about last year’s revolution, having abstained on the United Nations Security Council vote that authorised the international intervention to protect Libyan civilians in March last year. Russia has viewed the pro-democracy uprisings that have taken place across North Africa and the Middle East in the past 18 months as antithetical to its strategic interests. Russia was the main provider of arms to the Qaddafi regime, with sales accounting for 12 per cent of Russia’s arms exports in 2010, at a value of $10 billion.
The Belarusian Embassy in Tripoli was unavailable for comment, but it is known that it has also decided to lodge an appeal against the convictions.