Hundreds Attend Funeral Of Belarus Air Crew Shot Down In Somalia

Dozens of top regional officials and hundreds of mourners attended the funeral on Monday of three Belarusian crewmen killed in Somalia after a missile hit their aircraft, the Belapan news agency reported.

Well-wishers from government, businesses, and military units in the central Belarusian city Vitebsk placed flowers and memorial wreaths as they filed past the closed coffins of the victims of the incident in late March.

The entire Vitebsk Symphony Orchestra played at the service, while children were given time off from school to attend.

Flight engineer Aleksander Zernin, 52, navigator Gennadiy Trashkov, 46, and co-pilot Aleksander Gomankov, 41 were all members of a Vitiebsk military air transport unit.

They were among the 11 people aboard an Iliushin-76 transport jet who lost their lives after a surface-to-air missile fired from the Somali capital Mogadishu struck the aircraft.

An unknown number of Mogadishu residents also died or were injured when the Iliushin crashed and burned in a north city suburb.

Belarus' authoritarian government has spun the incident in the state-controlled media as a case of heroic death by Belarusian service personnel.

Zernin, Trashkov, and Gomankov, all members of an elite "Guards" air transport squadron, were buried at the Vitebsk central cemetary's "Alley of Glory" - a section of the cemetary previously reserved for veterans of World War II or former Soviet Union's Afghanistan war.

A memorial service for the dead crew took place in Vitebsk's St George cathedral on Sunday, and another service for them was scheduled for Tuesday.

Two other members of the air crew, engineer Mikhail Baglov and pilot Igor Bashkevich, were due to be buried in the Belarusian capital Minsk later this week.

Baglov died on his 66th birthday, Nikolai Pikas, a relative, said.

c 2007 DPA