Somaliland jails Russians for illegal plane landing

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Six Russians were sentenced to one year prison sentences by a Somaliland court on Thursday for entering the enclave’s airspace illegally and landing a plane with military supplies in violation of a United Nations embargo.

Authorities in the northern breakaway Somali region arrested the six earlier in December after they landed the Antonov-24 cargo plane at the Egal International Airport. They have said the plane contained weapons and military uniforms, including bullet and grenade pouches, army shoes and belts.

The judge, Abdirahman Jama Hayan, said on Thursday that mines were found on board and would be confiscated along with the military fatigues. Officials in Hargeisa say there are elements arming the semi-autonomous region of Puntland, despite a U.N. weapons embargo for Somalia. They are concerned armed groups across the border in Puntland could destabilise Somaliland.

Assistant general prosecutor, Aden Ahmed Diriye, had told the court that claims by the crew that an emergency landing was necessary because the plane was suffering from a fuel shortage were false.

Kadar Mohamed Guleid, a lawyer for the defence, said he was satisfied with the verdict, which included $500 fines for each of the Russians, and that no appeal would be filed.

Somaliland is proud of its relative stability, which contrasts with the southern regions of the failed Horn of Africa state, where al Shabaab insurgents control large amounts of territory and are fighting a weak Western-backed government.



Pic: An Antonov 24 in Mongolian livery. From the John Glazier collection.