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Last Updated: Friday, 3 June, 2005, 12:36 GMT 13:36 UK
SA 'mercenaries' appear in court
Suspected mercenaries handcuffed in court in Zimbabwe
The men say they were providing security for a mine
Eight out of 61 suspected mercenaries recently freed from jail in Zimbabwe have appeared in court in South Africa.

The men - all South African - were deported home last month after serving their sentences for contravening Zimbabwe's aviation and firearms laws.

The charges were related to an alleged coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea.

Those who appeared in court are facing charges of breaking South Africa's anti-mercenary laws. No charges are being laid against the other 53 men.

'Knew nothing'

The men, who were arrested in March 2004 after their plane landed at Harare airport to collect weapons, said they were on their way to guard diamond mines in Democratic Republic of Congo.

Map of South Africa
Map of South Africa
The group's lawyer said there was not enough evidence to prosecute the other 53 men under South Africa's Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act.

"The authorities clearly believe that they knew nothing about an alleged coup plot against [Equatorial Guinea's] President Teodoro Obiang Nguema and that they genuinely believed that they had been recruited to do security work in DR Congo," their lawyer Alwyn Griebenow said.

The case was postponed until 8 July.

Earlier this year, Sir Mark Thatcher - son of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - fell foul of South Africa's anti-mercenary laws in relation to the alleged coup plot and was given a suspended jail term and fined after agreeing a plea bargain to help investigators.

The alleged ringleader of the plot, Briton Simon Mann, and the two pilots of the plane, remain in prison in Zimbabwe on longer sentences.

In Equatorial Guinea, 14 other people were found guilty of charges linked to the alleged coup attempt, including plot leader Nick du Toit who received a 34-year jail sentence.

SA keen to shed mercenary image
13 Jan 05 |  Africa


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