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Monday, January 18, 1999 Published at 09:16 GMT

World: Africa

Banana sentenced for gay assault

Canaan Banana: Fled Zimbabwe before conviction

Former Zimbabwean President Canaan Banana has been sentenced to 10 years in jail with labour - nine suspended - for homosexual assault.

Four of the suspended years are conditional on him paying compensation of around $12,000 to one of his victims.

He was earlier found guilty on 11 counts of homosexual assault.

Joseph Winter in Harare: "Tough sentence"
Mr Banana's lawyers said they were appealing against both the conviction and the sentence.

The convictions mostly relate to former bodyguards and date back to when he was head of state in the early 1980s.

Last year, shortly before his conviction, he fled the country to South Africa where he met President Nelson Mandela.

He agreed to return to Zimbabwe following a meeting between Mr Mandela and the Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, where his fate was discussed.

He spent a month under house arrest following his return from South Africa.

No mandatory sentence

The punishment was left to the judge's discretion - there is no mandatory sentence for sodomy or committing an unnatural act, the two most serious offences of which he was convicted, the state prosecutor said.

Most of the previous sentences for sodomy, cited in last month's hearing, were of one or two years in jail.

The remaining eight charges are of indecent and common assault which relate to incidents such as kissing, or attempting to kiss, his bodyguards.

Global interest

The trial aroused enormous interest both in Zimbabwe and around the world, not only because Mr Banana is a former president, but because his successor, Robert Mugabe, is well known for his condemnation of homosexuals who he has said are worse than pigs and dogs.

Mr Mugabe said recently he continued to respect Canaan Banana and he discussed the case with Nelson Mandela shortly before Mr Banana came back to Zimbabwe.

This led to speculation that the two presidents had agreed that despite his conviction, the former head of state would not be sent to jail.

Although Mr Banana has denied being gay, his defence lawyers argued during the trial that consensual sodomy should no longer be considered a crime.

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