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1976: Mercenaries trial begins in Angola

The trial of 13 mercenaries - 10 of them British - has begun in Angola with the public still in the dark over the exact charges.

The Angolan authorities have described them as "the lowest of human characteristics in volunteering to kill, destroy and commit criminal acts in exchange for adequate payment".

The 10 Britons, 2 Americans and one Argentine were mercenaries in the Angolan civil war but have not been seen prior to their court appearance.

One of the men, ex-paratrooper Costas Georgiou, is also wanted by New Scotland Yard for questioning in connection with the murders of 14 of his own men during the war.

The start of the trial comes a day after tens of thousands of Angolans took part in a march to protest against mercenaries.

Billed as a "spontaneous show of popular feeling against the mercenary phenomenon" it was not officially linked to the trial but the timing and the fact the route went past the courthouse suggest it was.

The good natured event was organised for the benefit of the foreign press who have been accused by Angolans of starting a campaign to discredit the trial.

A British member of the commission of inquiry into the mercenaries criticised the event saying it put extra pressure on the court.

The trial at the Luanda Palace is being translated into Russian, English, Spanish, French and Portuguese to avoid any confusion in the reporting of the case, which has captured worldwide media attention.

The trial could last for up to a week and, according to the Angolan "Revolutionary Penal Legislation" mercenary charges could result in anything from an "oral warning to death by firing squad".

In Context
At the end of the trial three Britons and an American were sentenced to death by firing squad for their part in the murders of fellow mercenaries. They were killed on 10 July.

The others on trial received prison sentences ranging from 16 to 30 years.

Civil war broke out after Angola gained independence from Portugal in 1975.

Rival groups Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and Union for the Total Independence of Angola (Unita) fought for the right to rule Angola when it separated from Portugal.

In April 2002 the Angolan army and Unita signed a formal ceasefire in Luanda to end the 27-year conflict.

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