March 12 2004
Zimbabwe to Charge ‘Mercenaries’ with Plotting
By Cris Chinaka
HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe said on Friday it will charge dozens of
mercenary suspects with trying to destabilize a sovereign state and
said the detainees were talking about their purported plot to stage a
coup in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.
Zimbabwe detained more than 60 men after their Boeing 727 was seized
in Harare on Sunday, and Equatorial Guinea — sub-Saharan Africa’s
third largest oil producer — arrested another smaller group who said
were an advance party.
“The charges are quite clear… they include destabilizing an
independent and sovereign government and our statutes, and the AU
(African Union), forbid that,” Zimbabwean Home Affairs Minister Kembo
Mohadi told reporters after President Robert Mugabe met a visiting
delegation from Equatorial Guinea.
Asked whether the suspects were cooperating with the investigation,
Mohadi said: “They are talking.”
The plane’s operator says the group was due to provide legitimate
mine security in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Zimbabwe has said those it detained, mainly South Africans, Angolans
and Namibians, may face the death penalty.
Visiting Harare on Friday, Equatorial Guinea’s Justice Minister Ruben
Maye Nsue Mangue said the 20 men detained in his nation’s capital
Malabo were six Armenians, four Angolans with South African
passports, four Kazakhs, one German and five former “high-ranking”
South African military personnel.
“They have been sent by Western countries, companies. They have
received an advance of $5 million and they were promised another $5
million afterwards,” he said, adding the plot had been to abduct
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and take him to Equatorial
Guinea’s former ruler Spain.
Zimbabwe, battling international sanctions spearheaded by Britain and
the United States, accused spy agencies of those countries on
Wednesday of aiding the alleged plot against Obiang in conjunction
with the Spanish secret service.
“The United States Government has protested to the Government of
Zimbabwe concerning the outlandish and inaccurate allegations…
about U.S. involvement with a purported mercenary operation,” the
U.S. embassy in Harare said in a statement on Friday. Britain and
Spain have also issued denials.
No detainee has yet appeared in court, but authorities in Malabo
presented Nick du Toit — who defense sources say is a former member
of a South Africa’s special forces — to diplomats on Tuesday as the
leader of the advance party.
A lawyer hired by a South African firm to represent the Harare
detainees was due to meet them on Friday, but Mohadi said it was
unlikely they would appear in court then. Legal sources said they can
be held for two weeks before a court hearing.
Zimbabwe’s official Herald newspaper quoted acting Attorney General
Bharat Patel as saying the group’s leaders — among them men
identified as Briton Simon Mann and South African Simon Witherspoon
— could be charged separately from the rest.
Radio Zimbabwe said most of the men, a mixed group of blacks and
whites, had South African passports, some of them fake.
South Africa’s Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said officials
were considering bringing the South Africans in the group home to
face trial under laws banning mercenary activity.
“We are discussing that but we are not opposed to them facing trial
where they committed the crime,” Dlamini-Zuma told SABC radio on
Friday. South Africa’s mercenary laws aim to shake its image as a
supplier of “dogs of war” to African conflicts.
“The South African government is making the point that they are very
serious about rooting this out — it’s very much in line with the
African Union and its Peace and Security Council,” said Henri
Boschoff of Pretoria’s Institute of Security Studies.
“It’s about peace — if you have lots of mercenaries running around,
you’re not going to get it,” Boschoff told Reuters.