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Page last updated at 15:29 GMT, Friday, 13 May 2005 16:29 UK

'Mercenaries' delay causes alarm

Group of arrested mercenaries in Zimbabwe military court
Most of the alleged mercenaries are South African

Sixty men linked to an alleged coup plot in Equatorial Guinea remain in custody in Zimbabwe, four days after their jail terms ended.

The men were to be deported to South Africa on Thursday, but remain in the custody of immigration officials.

"It looks like this is a cat and mouse game situation," lawyer Jonathan Samkange told the Associated Press.

Coup allegations against the men were not proven, but they were convicted of breaking Zimbabwe's immigration laws.

The men have not left the Harare jail where they served a one-year sentence. On release, they are expected to be taken by road to the Beit Bridge border crossing.

"My clients are all dressed up in their own clothes very cheerfully ready to leave but they are getting anxious," Mr Samkange said.

New charges

They will be reunited with their families before facing possible charges in South Africa, their South African lawyer, Alwyn Griebenow, said.

They are in good health apart from one with tuberculosis, he added.

Map of South Africa

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

The men being released had been travelling on South African passports when they were arrested in March 2004 after their chartered plane touched down at Harare airport to pick up weapons.

Zimbabwean officials said they had been en-route to Equatorial Guinea to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in the oil-rich country.

The men said the weapons were to be used for guarding diamond mines in Democratic Republic of Congo.

In Equatorial Guinea, 14 other people have been found guilty of charges linked to the coup plot, including South African Nick du Toit who received 34 years.

Sir Mark Thatcher, the son of former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was given a suspended jail term in South Africa and fined after agreeing a plea bargain to help investigators.

Previous reports said that there were 62 prisoners due for release but latest reports refer to 60.

Under South African law, they could be charged with engaging in military activities abroad without official permission.




SEE ALSO
SA keen to shed mercenary image
13 Jan 05 |  Africa
Probe as 'mercenary' dies in jail
06 Oct 04 |  Africa
Q&A: Equatorial Guinea 'coup plot'
26 Oct 04 |  Africa
Timeline: E Guinea coup plot
03 Nov 09 |  Africa

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