Judge to sentence Zim ‘mercenaries’

A Zimbabwe judge was expected on Wednesday to begin handing down sentences as the trial of 70 suspected mercenaries accused of plotting a coup in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea resumed.

”Today we are expecting judgement, sentencing and trial,” said defence lawyer Jonathan Samkange.

The men were arrested on March 7 at Harare International airport when their plane stopped off to pick up weapons that they claim were to be used to guard a diamond mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Zimbabwe authorities, however, charge that the men were getting ready to join 15 other suspected mercenaries in Malabo to topple long-time Equatorial-Guinean leader President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe is expected to hand down sentences to 67 men who pleaded guilty last month to minor charges of violating aviation and immigration laws, but they must still be tried for breaking security and firearms laws.

The alleged leader of the group, Briton Simon Mann, and two others did not face the aviation and immigration charges because they were not on the plane that stopped over in Harare on March 7 to collect firearms.

Firearms and security charges against pilot Jaap Steyl and two other crew members were dropped last month by the prosecution.

A small fine or short jail term could be handed down to the 67 for violating aviation and immigration charges.

But a conviction on the security charges could lead to a jail term of up to 10 years.

The trial opened on July 27 at a makeshift court in the Chikurubi Maximum Security prison where the men have been held since their arrest almost six months ago.

Early this month South Africa’s Constitutional Court turned down an appeal by the suspected mercenaries to force President Thabo Mbeki’s government to seek their extradition from Harare.

The alleged coup plotters are from Angola, Namibia, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe, but were all travelling on South African passports.

Zimbabwe claims the group was headed for Malabo to join 15 other suspected mercenaries sent as an advance force to carry out a coup.

Fourteen men held in Malabo are due to go on trial on Monday, including eight South Africans and six Armenians. A German national died in custody in Equatorial Guinea.

Mann has pleaded guilty to attempting to obtain dangerous weapons in Harare.

He was in Harare days before his arrest and had gone to the airport to pick up the firearms he allegedly bought from a Zimbabwean state-owned arms manufacturer, Zimbabwe Defence Industries.

He was with two other accomplices, who also face charges of conspiring to obtain dangerous weapons.

The families of the men fear that Zimbabwe will extradite the ”Zim 70” to Malabo to face trial there and a possible death sentence. — Sapa-AFP

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Susan Njanji
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