- The lawyer for 70 suspected mercenaries in Zimbabwe says he will oppose any attempt to extradite them to Equatorial Guinea, where it is alleged they planned to overthrow the government. The Zimbabwe government yesterday announced it had drafted an extradition treaty of immediate effect with Equatorial Guinea.
Jonathan Samukange, representing a group of Namibians, Angolans, South Africans, Congolese and a Zimbabwean, yesterday confirmed that Equatorial Guinea had requested Zimbabwe to send the men there for trial. The 70 suspects, including 30 Namibians and a British national - were detained after their Boeing 727 landed at Harare International Airport on 7 March.
The Briton, Simon Mann, had been in talks with Zimbabwe Defence Industries (ZDI), the State's arms manufacturer, to buy weapons when he was arrested. The others were arrested later and charged with plotting to overthrow Equatoguinean President Teodoro Obiang Nguema at the behest of exiled opposition leader Severo Moto for an alleged US$ 1,8 million and oil rights in the former Spanish colony.
The men have denied the charges. They say the US-registered plane was headed for the Democratic Republic of Congo where they would have been guarding mines.
Mr Samukange said he would oppose the extradition on the grounds that an amendment of the law to include Equatorial Guinea was not done through parliament. Besides, he said, "you cannot legislate in retrospect. If the state is going to extradite them, I'm going to challenge the process."
The accused fear being extradited to Equatorial Guinea, where President Obiang has ruled for 25 years. It is ranked by human rights groups as one of the world's most repressive countries. A dozen other suspects are being held in prison there. Human rights groups say they believe at least one of the suspects held in custody in Equatorial Guinea has been tortured to death.
In Equatorial Guinea, they may even face charges of plotting to overthrow the governments of São Tomé and Príncipe and of Congo. President Obiang publicly has made these accusations, in addition to "confirming" the suspects were indeed mercenaries.
Mr Samukange this week asked the court to refuse granting further postponements to the prosecution and to acquit his clients, who, he maintains, are innocent. The Zimbabwean government will oppose the application on Friday.
The suspected mercenaries face five charges including conspiring to carry out a coup with weapons purchased in Zimbabwe. They are also accused of violating Zimbabwe's immigration, firearms and security laws. If convicted, they could face life in prison.
Mr Samukange yesterday said his clients remained "in good spirits". However, they would protest the refusal of entry to reporters and ordinary spectators normally allowed into regular courts.
The case is being heard at Chikurubi Prison, 30 kilometres north of Harare, where a judge ruled relatives and members of the public should be allowed entry as in a normal court. Mr Samukange said that unlike some of the South Africans, the Namibians had not received visitors.
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