‘Mercenaries’ saga: Key dates

News24, South Africa
July 20 2004

‘Mercenaries’ saga: Key dates

Harare – A group of 70 suspected mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe
four months ago on charges of plotting a coup in oil-rich Equatorial
Guinea go on trial on Wednesday.

Here are some of the key events leading up to the trial of the
“Harare 70”.

March 7:

Zimbabwe authorities announce the arrest of 70 suspected mercenaries.
67 of the men were on board a Boeing private jet that had landed at
Harare international airport from South Africa to pick up weapons.
The three other men, including the alleged leader Simon Mann, were
already in Zimbabwe and waiting for their arrival at the airport.

Zimbabwe maintains that the men were en route to join 15 others in
Equatorial Guinea to topple President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

March 9:

Obiang announces the arrest in Malabo of 15 men he says were plotting
to overthrow him and accuses opposition leader Severo Moto, who is
living in exile in Madrid, of being behind the attempted coup.

A man identified as South African Nick du Toit, 48, the alleged
leader of the group of 15, appears on television in Equatorial
Guinea, saying the mercenaries were on a mission to abduct Obiang and
force him into exile.

March 13:

Obiang says the 15 suspected mercenaries face the death penalty,
adding: “If we have to kill them, we will kill them.”

March 18:

South Africa denies a report in Spain’s El Pais newspaper that the
alleged leader of the mercenary force, Nick du Toit, had died from
torture in Malabo’s notorious Black Beach prison.

Malabo announces that one of the men, German national Gerhard Eugen
Nershz, had died from cerebral malaria.

The newspaper also says that one of the South Africans in the group,
that also includes Armenians and Angolans, was working for the
president’s security detail.

March 23:

At their first court appearance in the Chikurubi maximum security
prison on the outskirts of Harare, the 70 suspected mercenaries are
formally charged with illegal possession and purchase of weapons, and
with violations of firearms, immigration and civil aviation

April 7:

Equatorial Guinea’s interior minister says the alleged mercenaries
planned to kill the president and his entire family.

April 8:

Zimbabwe’s justice minister says he will investigate allegations by
some of the 70 detained men that they were beaten in prison.

April 13:

The 70 suspected mercenaries make another court appearance in

April 27:

Lawyers representing the 70 suspected mercenaries request that they
be released and produce a witness who testifies that the men were on
their way to the Democratic Republic of Congo to guard a diamond

April 29:

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe agrees to extradite the 70 men to
face trial in Equatorial Guinea following talks with Obiang in
Bulawayo, a reliable source reveals.

May 12:

Zimbabwe prosecutors claim that the alleged leader of the group of 70
men, Simon Mann, had signed a contract with opposition leader Severo
Moto to topple the regime in Equatorial Guinea.

June 9:

The Pretoria High court rejects a request by the families of the 70
mercenaries held in Zimbabwe to force President Thabo Mbeki’s
government to seek their extradition to South Africa.

June 23:

Trial date for the 70 mercenaries is set for July 19.

July 9:

Equatorial Guinea files complaints in Britain and Spain, citing
opposition leader Severo Moto and businessman Elie Calil of Lebanese
origin, management consultant Greg Wales and Simon Mann for being
behind the alleged coup plot.

July 10:

The trial of the 70 mercenaries is postponed to July 21.

July 13:

Trial of 12 prison guards charged with beating some of the 70
suspected mercenaries is postponed to July 27.

July 19:

South Africa’s constitutional court hears appeal from families of
suspected mercenaries who want to force President Thabo Mbeki’s
government to seek the extradition of the men from Zimbabwe.

Edited by Duane Heath