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Lebanon jails Red Army five

The leading lights of the Leb-anese judiciary were in court, five judges led by the incorruptible Soheil Abdul-Samad in his red, black and white robes. The might of the Japanese press corps was there; 16 journalists, including representatives of five television channels. So was the ice- cold figure of the Japanese embassy's first secretary, Tamotsu Sei, his well-groomed black moustache set above unsmiling lips, stiff white shirt beneath a grimly dark suit in the stifling summer courtroom. Only the ageing defendants from the Japanese Red Army - whom Mr Sei would like to pack off to Tokyo for more serious trials - were missing.

They were allowed to relax in Beirut's Roumieh prison yesterday while Judge Abdul-Samad briskly convicted all five - once regarded as among the most dangerous killers in the world - to a mere three years in prison for illegally entering Lebanon. Needless to say, Kozo Okamoto - who led a 1972 attack on Tel Aviv airport which left 24 pilgrims dead - Kazuo Tohira, Masao Adachi, Haruwo Wako and the only woman, Mariko Yamamoto, will all appeal against the sentence and against the court's decision to deport them from Lebanon when they are released from prison.

Nor is it difficult to see why. The Japanese government would like to try them for a score of crimes and lock them up for the rest of their lives; hence the presence of the grim-faced Mr Sei in court. The five defendants would like to spend the rest of their lives in Leb-anese retirement, which is more or less what they were doing last February when Lebanese security police arrested all five in Beirut and charged them with forging visa stamps and holding false passports.

Needless to say, their original arrest was accompanied by a good deal of rhetoric. The Jerusalem Post accused Leb-anon of "sheltering" the notorious Okamoto - failing to point out that Israel had itself imprisoned him for 13 years but then blithely let him go free in return for captured Israeli soldiers. The Lebanese authorities insisted that they had only just discovered the presence of the five, three of whom had been using Singaporean, Chinese and Brazilian passports to travel in and out of Lebanon. Lebanese justice, we were told, was taking its natural course - until it was discovered that one of Leb-anon's top security officials just happened to have business connections in Japan. He turned out to be a witness against the five - and then took early retirement.

In the end, the Red Army five were convicted only of illegal entry into Lebanon - a crime committed by countless armies over the past 1,000 years but one which will see the defendants behind bars for the next 30 months, since they have already spent six months at Roumieh. Mr Sei, who had hoped the court would deport the five to Tokyo, went back to his embassy empty- handed. But be sure that we shall see him again. Indeed, only yesterdaymorning, the Japanese ambassador was talking of the vast amount of yen that his country was already spending on agricultural projects in Lebanon. Japan was ready to do even more for the country, he said. And one wondered what the price of an air ticket to Tokyo would be when the Red Army five walk out of prison in 2000.