SA delays suspected mercenaries' trial

The South African trial of nine men charged in an alleged plot to topple the president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea has been delayed until next year, the men’s lawyer said on Thursday.

Alwyn Griebenow said the trial, seen as a test of South Africa’s anti-mercenary laws, had been postponed from next week due to scheduling conflicts with lawyers.

“The trial will only commence on the 5th of February next year,” Griebenow told Reuters.

The accused were among 61 South Africans deported from Zimbabwe in May 2005 after serving out 12-month sentences there on immigration and weapons charges.

In November 2004, Equatorial Guinea separately sentenced 11 foreign nationals to between 14 and 34 years on charges of trying to stage a coup against President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

Zimbabwe prosecutors linked those charges to a planeload of suspected mercenaries travelling on South African passports who were arrested after their plane was impounded in Harare.

The alleged coup plan also dragged in the son of Britain’s former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Mark Thatcher, who pleaded guilty in South Africa to a financing role in the plot and paid a fine while receiving a suspended sentence.

The incident embarrassed South Africa’s government, which has repeatedly vowed to get tough on former apartheid soldiers who have gained a reputation as guns for hire in wars from West Africa to Papua New Guinea.

South Africa last year moved to tighten its anti-mercenary laws, proposing legislation to clamp down on civilians and former soldiers fighting or offering security in armed conflicts and to stamp out attempts to overthrow other African states.

The proposed law, currently before Parliament, could also have implications for thousands of South Africans believed to be working in security jobs in Iraq, lured by enticing salaries. - Reuters

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