CARACAS, VENEZUELA -- An appeals court yesterday upheld the acquittal of Orlando Bosch, a militant foe of Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who had been charged with planning the 1976 bombing of a Cuban airliner that killed 73 people.

Bosch has been jailed for 11 years as the case made its way through the Venezuelan court system. The attorney general's office is expected to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, but Bosch could be freed on bail as early as Friday.

The special three-judge panel upheld the homicide convictions of two of his co-defendants, Venezuelans Hernan Ricardo and Freddy Lugo. They were sentenced to 20 years each by the lower court. The court upheld their acquittal on charges of treason.

Through it all, Bosch has maintained his innocence. Following his acquittal last year, however, he said the jet "was a war plane, because Cuban airlines are not tourist lines. . . . In that plane, there were 27 members of the Cuban DGI {intelligence service} and seven North Korean diplomats."

The plane, on a commercial flight from Venezuela to Cuba, blew up shortly after taking off from a stopover in Barbados. Most of the passengers were Cuban athletes returning from a fencing tournament in Caracas.