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Last Updated: Friday, 10 September, 2004, 13:08 GMT 14:08 UK
Zimbabwe jails UK 'coup plotter'
Alleged mercenaries
Mann (second right) is a former special forces soldier
The British leader of a group of 67 alleged mercenaries accused of plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea has been sentenced to seven years in jail.

Former SAS officer Simon Mann has been convicted in Zimbabwe of illegally trying to buy weapons.

The men were arrested in March when their private plane landed at Harare Airport. They denied plotting a coup.

The other passengers got 12 months in jail for breaking immigration laws while the two pilots got 16 months.

The men said the weapons were to be used to provide security for a diamond mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Simon Mann
He is a humane man, but an adventurer... very English, a romantic, tremendously good company
Paul Greengrass
Film director

Mann, 51, was convicted two weeks ago on the weapons charge. The other men were acquitted of links to the suspected coup plot after the magistrate said prosecutors had failed to prove their case

BBC Southern Africa correspondent Barnaby Phillips says the sentences handed down on Friday were much stiffer than the men would have expected.

Their relatives broke down in tears as the ruling was read out.

Magistrate Mishrod Guvamombe delivered the sentences in a makeshift court inside Chikurubi maximum security prison near Harare, where the men have been detained since their arrest.

"The accused [Simon Mann] was the author of the whole transaction. He was caught while trying to take the firearms out of the country," the magistrate said.

He said the offences "were well planned and well executed and that must be reflected in the penalty".

The court also ordered the seizure of Mann's $3m Boeing 727 and $180,000 found on board.

Friend of Thatcher

Our correspondent says the men have suffered a miserable six months in what is Zimbabwe's most notorious jail. They were often in chains and have complained of frequent beatings.

Mann has led a colourful life. Educated at an elite British private school, Eton, he was a successful soldier before he drifted into the murky world of private security in Africa.

He is a good friend and Cape Town neighbour of Sir Mark Thatcher, son of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Sir Mark has been arrested in South Africa accused of helping to fund the alleged coup. He denies any involvement.

Another 14 suspected foreign mercenaries are on trial in Equatorial Guinea.

The BBC's Barnaby Phillips
"None of them has fallen further from grace than Simon Mann."

Q&A: Equatorial Guinea coup plot
27 Aug 04  |  Africa
Profile: Simon Mann
22 Jul 04  |  UK
Country profile: Equatorial Guinea
16 Jul 04  |  Country profiles

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