UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
ZIMBABWE: Alleged mercenaries back in South Africa
HARARE, 16 May 2005 (IRIN) - Sixty-two alleged mercenaries, who were jailed by Zimbabwean authorities for violating immigration, aviation, security and firearms regulations, were deported to South Africa over the weekend, amid tight security.
They travelled to the border by road on Saturday, as Zimbabwean officials said flying them back could have posed a security risk.
The 62 were arrested in March last year after their plane made a stop-over at Harare International Airport, where they allegedly hoped to collect military hardware for use in toppling the government of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.
The South Africans had allegedly been hired by Equatorial Guinea opposition leader Severo Moto, who is exiled in Spain.
Mark Thatcher, the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, was also implicated in the coup plot and arrested in South Africa, where he was ultimately fined R3 million (US $475,000) for financing the planned putsch.
The two pilots who flew the plane that landed in Harare will serve another four months before they are released.
The leader of the group, Simon Francis Mann, a former member of the British Special Air Service and friend of Mark Thatcher, was jailed for seven years and is serving his sentence at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison Complex outside Harare.
One of the alleged mercenaries died before he could complete his term, while two others were released earlier because of poor health.
The principal immigration officer at Beitbridge Border post, Dennis Chitsaka, told IRIN in an interview that one of the mercenaries was rushed to Musina Hospital in South Africa, as he had been ill for some time.
Complaints have been raised about conditions in Zimbabwean jails, where an unusually high number of prisoners have reportedly died due to overcrowding and poor hygiene.
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