Baghdad Sentences Three More Westerners for Wandering Into Iraq
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ Iraq sentenced three Swedish communications engineers to seven years in prison Sunday for illegally crossing the border from Kuwait, surprised and angered Swedish officials said.
The sentences come after Britain said earlier this month that two Britons had been sentenced to seven and 10 years, respectively, for illegally entering Iraq. One entered during a bicycle trek, the other while working in Kuwait.
The trial and verdicts Sunday took Sweden by surprise. As late as Friday, the Swedish Foreign Ministry said that Iraq’s foreign minister, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf, reported the investigation of the Swedes’ trespass was incomplete.
’The verdict is incomprehensible and quite unacceptable and out of proportion, considering the violation,″ said Swedish Foreign Minister Margaretha af Ugglas. ″It’s obvious that the three Swedes made a mistake when they crossed the border.″
Christer Stromgren, Stefan Wihlborg, and Leif Westerberg were employed by the Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson to build base stations for a mobile telephone network in northern Kuwait. The Swedish government said they lost their way driving between stations and accidentally crossed into Iraq on Sept. 3, when they were arrested and taken to Baghdad.
The sentences of the Britons raised fears that Iraq might use the men as pawns to pressure Britain over its involvement in the flight ban Western powers have imposed against Iraqi military aircraft over southern Iraq.
Sweden has not participated in the U.S.-led ″no-fly″ zone, but is enforcing U.N. sanctions against Iraq. The two countries have not had ambassadors in each other’s capitals since the 1991 Gulf War.
Af Ugglas said the verdict would be appealed and diplomatic work to free the Swedes would continue. She said Iraq’s charge d’affaires in Stockholm had been summoned to the Foreign Ministry, and Sweden’s ambassador to Egypt, Jan Stahl, would make a strong objection in Baghdad.
Stahl visited the Swedes Thursday at the Iraqi Foreign Ministry and reported they were well.