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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Thursday 11 March 2004

ZIMBABWE: Suspected mercenaries awaiting charges

JOHANNESBURG, 11 Mar 2004 (IRIN) - A group of suspected mercenaries detained by the Zimbabwean authorities could be charged for attempting to acquire firearms illegally in the country, the acting attorney-general, Bharat Patel, told IRIN on Thursday.

Among the charges the 67 men could face are the violation of the Firearms Act, the Civil Aviation Act and the Immigration Act. Patel said he was not sure when the alleged mercenaries were likely to appear in court - the police were still acquiring statements from them.

The men were travelling in a Boeing 727-100 which landed in Zimbabwe on Sunday, reportedly en route to Equitorial Guinea. The pilot is alleged to have made a "false declaration" that the plane was carrying no cargo and only seven passengers.

South African authorities have confirmed that though the 67 men were of various nationalities, they were all holding South African passports.

Meanwhile, Equatorial Guinea announced on Tuesday that it had arrested 15 alleged mercenaries, including several South Africans, who, it claimed, were an advance party for the group being held in Zimbabwe.

Patel said although no weapons were found in the men's possession, "the men had taken certain steps [to acquire firearms]," and his office was considering charges related to the acquisition of weapons in Zimbabwe - a violation of the Firearms Act - but he could not reveal details as this could influence the prosecutor's case.

Some news reports claimed that a representative of the alleged coup plotters had met last week with Col Tshinga Dube, director of Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI), and paid US $180,000 for a consignment of AK-47s, mortars and 30,000 rounds of ammunition.

Speaking to IRIN, Dube denied the reports. "If the men were to purchase any weapons from the ZDI, it would mean that it had been endorsed by the Zimbabwean government - so why would the Zimbabweans authorities arrest them?" He said he had been in the Democratic Republic of Congo last week, arriving back in Harare only on Monday.

Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge told a news briefing in the capital, Harare, on Wednesday that the alleged mercenaries could face the death penalty.

But legal expert Greg Linington said, "Judging by the attorney-general's comments, the maximum penalty the men could face is a fine or a short-term sentence."

South African foreign affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said since Pretoria did not have an extradition agreement with any government, the alleged mercenaries would face legal action in the countries they were held in.


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