By Ashraf Abdul Wahab
Tripoli, April 12
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said that the 20 Ukrainian citizens being tried in Libya on charges . . .[restrict]of being mercenaries working for Qaddafi’s regime are innocent. It says that it is working on their release.
Russia’s Interfax news agency reported Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleh Voloshyn saying: “We believe that our citizens are innocent”. He added that the Ukrainians “assert their innocence and say they came to Libya to work in the oil sector, adding that they may have violated the Libyan immigration laws and that this is considered a minor offense”.
Another Ukrainian Foreign Ministry official, Oleksandr Dykusarov, confirmed to AFP that Ukraine was making every effort to obtain the Ukrainians’ release and that the trial which in Tripoli had been suspended temporarily following Monday’s hearing to allow the four Libyan lawyers defending them access to their files. The trial is scheduled to resume next Monday.
Voloshyn said that even if the Ukrainians were convicted in Libya, Kiev would seek to bring them back to Ukraine to spend their sentences.
Libyan army spokesman Colonel Ali Sheikhi said that the Ukrainians were being accused of setting-up of surface-to-air missile launch platforms to target international coalition aircraft during last year’s military campaign. He added that other charges were brought against them for assisting the Qaddafi regime quell the revolution and attack Libyan civilians through their work as mercenaries for Qaddafi and his brigades.
He said that most of the defendants were ex-military experts who had worked in Qaddafi’s brigades prior to the revolution. Some, he said, had retired but were brought back after the start of outbreak of the February 17 Revolution.
Ukraine, like Russia and Belarus, used to have strong ties with the former regime and when the conflict started last year it was estimated that there were about 1,500 Ukrainians working in Libya.