Mercenary suspects: Investigations widen
Posted: Friday, March 12, 2004
By Michael Padera, www.herald.co.zw
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An eight-man team from Equatorial Guinea arrived in Zimbabwe yesterday to exchange notes on the 67 suspected mercenaries who were arrested in Harare on Sunday while police and the Attorney General's Office continued with investigations and the framing of charges.
The suspected mercenaries are believed to have been on their way to Malabo, the capital of oil-rich West African country, to topple the government of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
"Yes, I can confirm we have received a special envoy from Equatorial Guinea. It is an eight-member delegation led by the country's Deputy Foreign Minister," said Foreign Affairs spokesperson Mrs Pavelyn Musaka.
The delegation led by Mr Jose Esono Micha visited South Africa where they held talks with Foreign Minister Cde Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
Acting Attorney General Mr Bharat Patel yesterday said his office is finalising charges against the suspected mercenaries. In an interview with The Herald, Mr Patel said his office had instructed police to record statements from all 67 suspects.
He said the suspects' appearance in court would depend on how fast the police completed recording statements from individual members of the group. The group leaders -- Simon Mann, Nicholas du Toit and Simon Witherspoon -- could be charged separately from the rest of the group.
Mr Patel said in a separate interview with Newsnet that they were likely to appear in court today but it could be tomorrow or very soon thereafter. He could not say whether the suspects would go to court as one group, saying that would depend on the charges preferred against them.
Mr Patel said charges against the suspects were likely to include contravening the Civil Aviation Act but there "may also be other charges relating to the Firearms Act, possibly also in relation to our immigration laws".
In Pretoria, the South African government said its nationals arrested in Zimbabwe and Equitorial Guinea will have to stand trial and serve any prison sentences in these countries.
"We have no prisoner transfer agreement with any country," said foreign ministry spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa. "As with all South Africans arrested in foreign countries, they will have to face the laws of those countries should it turn out that they were mercenaries," he told AFP.
"We do however, offer consular services. But bringing them back would be out of the question."
South Africa passed a law in 1998, which specifically forbids any mercenary activity and which carries heavy penalties.
In Malabo, in Equatorial Guinea, the leader of a group of 15 suspected mercenaries appeared on national television admitting the group planned to kidnap Obiang and force him into exile in Spain, the former colonial power.
In South Africa, the Afrikaans daily Beeld quoted Foreign Minister Cde Dlamini-Zuma as saying that Pretoria was investigating the matter, but adding it was "clear however, that any South African nationals should not expect too much assistance from the government.
"One of the South Africans apparently told the diplomatic corps in Equatorial Guinea what nonsense he committed there. He will have to explain that himself," the paper quoted her as saying.
That man, identified as 48-year-old Nick du Toit, a South African, said the group was supposed to meet other mercenaries due to arrive from South Africa, but that they were told at the last minute the group had been arrested.
In Harare on Wednesday, the Minister of Foreign Affairs Cde Stan Mudenge told diplomats accredited to Zimbabwe that the Government would work with authorities in Equatorial Guinea, South Africa and DRC in the investigations.
The suspects were arrested on Sunday night in Harare allegedly on their way to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to remove the government of President Obiang.
President Obiang came into power in 1979.
The leader of the suspected mercenaries Simon Mann had allegedly been promised cash payment of one million British pounds and oil mining rights in the Malabo Islands.
The country's rebel leader Severo Moto, who is currently resident in Spain allegedly hired them to do the job. However, news agency reports from Madrid said Moto denied involvement in the planned coup but said President Obiang should go, by force if needed.
In 1997 Moto was arrested in Angola and expelled to Spain on suspicion of plotting a coup. He said links to the foiled coup were a fabrication designed to discredit him ahead of legislative and municipal elections due in April.
In Washington, United States Secretary of State Colin Powell denied US government involvement in the issue, but said the plane, a Boeing 727-100, was headed to another country and not Zimbabwe.
"We know nothing about the plane," the US chief diplomat said during an appearance before Congress.
"What we've learned from the information available to us is there are a group of individuals on the plane who were heading somewhere, not to Zimbabwe, they ended there, but that's not their intended destination as near as we can tell," Mr Powell said.
Mr Powell strenously denied the men had been dispatched by the US to overthrow President Mugabe. "We have no intention in going and displacing President Mugabe," Mr Powell said.
"But are we disappointed in his leadership? Do we speak critically of his leadership? Yes, we do," Powell said.
The suspects comprise 20 South Africans, 18 Namibians, 23 Angolans, two Congolese (DRC) and one Zimbabwean with a South African passport and three others believed to be the leaders.
Equatorial Guinea is Africa's third largest oil producer behind Nigeria and Angola. The discovery of massive oil reserves has boosted Equatorial Guinea's economy by as much as 70 percent a year, but critics say the newfound wealth has not been evenly distributed.
Cde Mudenge said investigations pointed to the availability of oil as the reason behind the ill-fated mission.
US giant Exxon Mobil Corp is the biggest oil producer in Equatorial Guinea. Other companies operating there include independent oil company Amerada Hess Corp, US Chevron Texaco Corp, Noble Energy Inc, Devon Energy Corp, Houston-based Marathon Oil Corp, South Africa's Engen Africa, Sasol and Nigeria's atlas Petroleum. -- Additional reporting by Reuters and AFP.
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