ARMENIA CONTINUES ATTEMPTS TO NEGOTIATE RELEASE OF ITS PILOTS FROM AFRICAN JAIL

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YEREVAN, February 20 (RIA Novosti) - During a visit to Equatorial Guinea scheduled for February 20, Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanyan plans to discuss with local authorities the fate of Armenian pilots who had received prison sentences in that country.

"The main issue on the agenda of the visit of the Armenian foreign minister to Equatorial Guinea is the fate of Armenian pilots sentenced last November to long prison terms for participation in the state coup staged in that country," Armenian foreign minister's press secretary Gamlet Gasparyan told RIA Novosti.

Six Armenian pilots worked since January 2004 in Equatorial Guinea flying an AN-12 transport plane registered in Armenia. On March 7, they were arrested in the capital of Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, on accusation of participation in a state coup attempt as mercenaries and of espionage. Armenian pilots categorically denied the accusations.

On November 26, 2004, the Malabo city court pronounced a verdict on the attempted state coup case, where the Armenian pilots posed as defendants. The captain of the Armenian crew was sentenced to 24 years in prison, and the rest of the crew received 14-year sentences.

A citizen of South Africa, accused of masterminding the coup attempt received a 63-year prison sentence, while three other South Africans were sentenced for 50 to 60 years in jail. Local residents involved in the case as accomplices received one-year sentences.

A lawyer representing the Armenian pilots appealed the verdict in the Supreme Court of Equatorial Guinea.

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