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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
Wednesday 19 May 2004

ZIMBABWE: Alleged mercenaries take SA govt to court

JOHANNESBURG, 19 May 2004 (IRIN) - The 70 suspected mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe on charges of conspiring to topple the president of Equatorial Guinea are taking the South African government to court, a lawyer told IRIN on Wednesday.

"We have filed an application at the Pretoria High Court today [Wednesday], following the failure of the office of the [South African] president [Thabo Mbeki] to respond to our request, sent to him on Monday, to either extradite the men to South Africa or ensure they are not handed over to the authorities in Equatorial Guinea," lawyer Alwyn Griebenow said.

The alleged mercenaries, all of whom hold South African passports, had given Mbeki 24 hours to respond to their request.

In the court application Griebenow said his clients were invoking their constitutional rights to a fair trial and to life, "which is not guaranteed in Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea, where the death penalty is still in existence".

They had also questioned the South African government's motives in "tipping off" the Zimbabwean authorities, which had led to his clients' arrest. "Why did the South African government not arrest them here, before they left?" asked Griebenow.

Mbeki's spokesperson, Bheki Khumalo, confirmed that the papers had been served and said the government was going to oppose the application.

The 70 men, including three flight crew members, were arrested on 7 March on board a plane that landed at Harare International airport and charged with the violation of Zimbabwe's Public Order and Security Act, the Firearms Act and the Immigration Act.

The suspects' legal counsel in Zimbabwe, Jonathan Samkange, told IRIN they had been informed, informally, of the Zimbabwean government's decision to extradite his clients to Equatorial Guinea.

The state-owned Herald newspaper reported earlier this month that the governments of Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea were working on extraditing the men, and quoted Equatorial Guinea President Obiang Mbasogo, who was in Zimbabwe earlier this month, as saying that the two governments were examining technical aspects of extraditing the alleged mercenaries being held at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare.

The magistrate's court in Harare has given the authorities until 26 May to set a date for their trial.


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