E Guinea leader meets Mugabe

The President of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, arrived in Zimbabwe on Wednesday as the government, which is holding 70 men suspected of plotting to topple Nguema, altered its list of designated extradition countries to include the West African nation.

State television said Nguema arrived in the second capital of Bulawayo for ”consultation” with President Robert Mugabe.

”Nguema is in the country to hold talks with President Mugabe on the way forward concerning the fate of the 70 alleged mercenaries,” said state television.

According to government papers made available to AFP on Wednesday, the state published an order last week saying the current list of countries to which Zimbabwe can extradite suspects ”is amended by the insertion of the following item — Equatorial Guinea”.

It said the order had been made by Zimbabwe’s Minister of Home Affairs ”after consultation with the Minister of Foreign Affairs”.

The 70 men, all of whom were travelling on South African passports, were detained on March 7 at Harare International Airport when their Boeing 727 stopped to refuel and pick up military equipment.

The Zimbabwe authorities arrested the men, claiming they were on their way to join 15 suspected mercenaries arrested in Equatorial Guinea on similar charges of plotting to overthrow the government of the oil-rich West African nation.

On a visit to Zimbabwe earlier this month, Equato-Guinean Interior Minister Manuel Nguema Mba said the 15 men wanted to wipe out the entire family of President Nguema.

The men held in Harare have been charged with breaching Zimbabwe’s security, aviation, firearms and immigration laws.

Lawyers for the group are working to have the charges dropped and their legal representative, Francois Joubert, told a Harare court on Wednesday that ”no reasonable suspicion exist” that the group committed or planned to commit an offence.

”It is not even alleged by the state that the accused intended to do any detriment to Zimbabwe. We ask your worship with respect to grant the application to refuse remand (for the suspects),” said Joubert.

The main security law under which they are being charged relates to acts committed or intended to be carried out inside Zimbabwe.

”All the evidence indicate that they were flying to Bujumbura on their way to the Democratic Republic of Congo,” Joubert said. The men claim they had been hired to guard mines in the DRC.

He said even if the men had conspired, they would have done so in South Africa where they were based.

”There is suspicion that they conspired in South Africa. If they did, then let a South African court handle it.”

Simon Mann (55) the man Zimbabwe believes to be the leader of the group, told the court he was tortured in custody and forced to sign a statement.

”I was forced to make statements, I was forced to write down a lot of things which I was told. I could have signed anything,” Mann said.

The same court on Tuesday ordered an investigation into the torture claims that came up as defence lawyers were pressing for the release of the 70.

Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe said according to the evidence brought before the court so far, the alleged torture had not been done by the police or the prison authorities, but by ”other forces”. – Sapa-AFP

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Susan Njanji
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