Tripoli, 4 June:
Nineteen Ukrainians as well as three Belarusians and a Russian accused of being Qaddafi mercenaries during the uprising last year were found guilty by a military court in Tripoli today and sentenced to 10 years in jail with hard labour.
Also convicted was another Russian, said to be the coordinator of the group. He was given life imprisonment.
The men, who were arrested last August, had been charged with a number of offences, among them the setting-up of surface-to-air missile launching platforms to target NATO aircraft last year.
In April, when the men were first brought to trial, a spokesman for the General Staff office of the Libyan National Army, Colonel Ali Sheikhi, said that most of the defendants were ex-military experts who had worked with Qaddafi’s forces. Some had retired, he said, but were asked to return after the start of the revolution. He claimed that during preliminary investigations the men had admitted coming to Libya without the prior knowledge of their own governments.
All 24 had denied the charges, claiming that they were working in Libya as ordinary oil technicians.
The Belarusian ambassador, Anatoly Stepus, put out statement before the verdict was pronounced saying that the men were innocent and were oil workers. However, Ukrainian ambassador Mykola Nahornyi, also in court, said that they had been “forced” to work with Qaddafi. He insisted that the rocket launchers had not been targeted at NATO aircraft and that in an6 event the weapons had not been used.
The government in Kiev had already said that if its citizens were convicted it would ask Libya to repatriate them to serve their sentence in a Ukrainian jail. [/restrict]