Five guilty of migrant abuse

A military court in the Cretan town of Hania has found five coast guard officers guilty of beating up a group of Kurdish illegal immigrants in their custody three years ago. But in a decision made public on Saturday, the court proceeded to give suspended sentences of 12 to 30 months’ imprisonment to the five officers. A sixth defendant was cleared. The 24 immigrants who suffered abuse were part of a group of 164 people held in coast guard installations in Souda, near Hania, after arriving in Greek waters on a battered vessel from Turkey in June 2001. Among the witnesses was the former commander of the Souda coast guard station, Diamantis Vassilagoudis, who said several of the detainees had complained to him of being beaten up by the men under his command. He also confirmed that two of the officers had tried to sexually assault one of the migrants. In mid-September, the Defense Ministry admitted that army commandos on the remote eastern Aegean islet of Farmakonissi had violently abused a group of illegal immigrants who landed there. An investigation was ordered, but its results have still to be made public. Large numbers of illegal immigrants reach Greek shores every year, mostly in rickety vessels that leave from Turkey. Yesterday, coast guard officers rescued 34 illegal migrants from a sinking boat off the island of Leros in the Dodecanese, and were searching the seas off Lesvos for another migrant ship that was reported to be trouble in the area. The 34 migrants – 25 men, three women and six children – were located some 8 kilometers off Leros after a migrant couple told police in Athens that their daughter, who was on the boat, had contacted them by cellphone to seek help. The second search operation was under way until late yesterday off Lesvos for traces of a vessel thought to be carrying illegal migrants. The search was hampered by high winds of up to 8 on the Beaufort scale. The coast guard has arrested over 20 more illegal migrants on Lesvos and in the southern Peloponnese over the past three days.