updated 9/8/2009 3:49:25 PM ET 2009-09-08T19:49:25

A Congolese court sentenced two Norwegians to death Tuesday after convicting them of espionage and murder, drawing sharp criticism from Norway's government.

The men, former Norwegian soldiers, were convicted in May in the central Congolese city of Kisangani of murdering their driver and attempting to murder a witness. The court also convicted them of spying for Norway because they were carrying military ID cards at the time.

Norwegian media identified the two as Tjostolv Moland and Joshua French. Norway does not have the death penalty.

"I object strongly to the death sentences given these two Norwegian citizens," said Norway's foreign minister, Jonas Gahr Stoere. "Norway is against capital punishment as a matter of principle, and I will contact the foreign minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo in order to give him this message."

But Congolese officials were firm in their decision. The men have five days to appeal before going to prison.

"They will not be extradited," said Claude Disimo, head of the military tribunal in Kisangani that tried the men.

Norway: Men are not spies
Disimo said the court ordered that $60 million in damages be paid.

The Norwegian government denied the men were Norwegian spies.

"We wish to distance ourselves from the conviction of espionage on Norway's behalf," Stoere said. "We also wish to distance ourselves from the court's decision that Norway is responsible for paying damages. Norway is not a party in this case."

News agency NTB said the court convicted Moland of murdering a Congolese driver, and French was convicted of the attempted murder of a witness.

The news agency reported that Moland and French "were found guilty on all charges. They were charged with murder, attempted murder, espionage, armed robbery and the possession of illegal firearms."

NTB also reported that Moland and French were ordered to pay $171,000 to the driver's family and "associates."

The agency said the verdict was greeted by applause in the courtroom. The alleged motive behind the killing is unknown.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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