December 23, 2010 / 2:49 PM / 9 years ago

Somaliland charges 6 over plane with military fatigues

HARGEISA, Somalia (Reuters) - A Somaliland court on Thursday charged six Russian crew of a cargo plane authorities said entered its airspace and landed illegally while carrying military fatigues, contrary to a United Nations embargo.

The northern breakaway Somali enclave arrested the six, along with two South African journalists, on Sunday after landing in an Antonov-24 plane at the Egal International Airport. The journalists were later freed.

Assistant general prosecutor, Aden Ahmed Diriye, told the court the crew had violated Somaliland air space and said their landing was planned and their claim of fuel shortage and emergency landing was false.

Diriye said the claims that the plane was carrying ordinary clothes was also false.

“The plane was not carrying shirts, trousers and ordinary belts, but was carrying military uniform: pouches for bullets and grenades, army shoes and belts,” Diriye said.

“There was no emergency landing for the route of the plane was Entebbe-Hargeisa-Bossaso and Dubai,” Diriye added, referring to airports in Uganda, semi-autonomous Puntland and United Arab Emirates.

At the time of arrest, Somaliland authorities had said the plane was carrying weapons.

Officials in Hargeisa say there are elements arming the neighbouring semi-autonomous region of Puntland, despite a U.N. weapons embargo on Somalia. They are concerned armed groups across the border in Puntland could destabilise Somaliland.

Somaliland is proud of its relative stability, unlike 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.

The case was adjourned for until December 25, when the defence will make its presentation.

Editing by George Obulutsa and Jon Hemming

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