Ukraine on Monday said it is checking reports that the newly-empowered rebels in Libya have arrested 19 Ukrainians on suspicion of acting as mercenary snipers for Muammar Gaddafi's regime.
The 19, who are being held in Tripoli, have strongly denied the allegations and insist they were simply expatriates working in the Libyan energy sector before the fall of Gaddafi's regime.
"We are checking this information. The Ukrainian embassy in Tripoli is in contact with the local authorities," Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesman Oleg Voloshyn told AFP.
Three of those detained were shown in a report by Russian television from Tripoli rubbishing the claims that they could have been working as snipers for Gaddafi.
"Look at us. How could we have been snipers? We are just old men and women," said one of those detained, Maxim Shadrov. "We would be scared if we had something to fear. But we have clean conscience, a clean heart and clean hands."
A diplomatic source at the Ukrainian foreign ministry also said that those detained had "no links to mercenaries and are engineers."
Ukraine had close economic links with the deposed regime and when the conflict between Gaddafi and the rebels erupted in mid-February it had 1,500 citizens in the country, according to official estimates.
Among these were mainly medical personnel, most notoriously including women working as personal nurses for Gaddafi himself.
Ukraine on Thursday recognised the National Transitional Council (NTC) who ousted Gaddafi as the legitimate rulers of Libya, hours after its neighbour Russia made the same move.