Sixty-seven 'mercenaries' plead guilty

Sixty-seven of the 70 suspected mercenaries allegedly involved in plotting a coup in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea pleaded guilty to some of the charges and the Zimbabwean judge accepted their plea.

The 67 men pleaded guilty to violating immigration and aviation laws and were on Wednesday to enter a plea to further charges of breaking firearm and security legislation.

"All the 67 accused persons are found guilty as charged," Judge Mishrod Guvamombe ruled.

The 67 men were on board the plane that stopped over in Zimbabwe on March 7 to pick up weapons from the state arms manufacturer that they claim were to be used as part of their work guarding a diamond mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The men were arrested along with three others who were at the airport to greet them and accused of plotting to overthrown President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.

The 70 were all carrying South African passports at the time of their arrest but their countries of origin include Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.

The trial of the 70 men had been twice postponed to give lawyers an opportunity to review the charges and discuss the pleas with their clients.

Defence lawyer are hoping that the trial will not drag on beyond a week or two.

The families of the alleged soldiers of fortune fear the men will be extradited to Equatorial Guinea once their trial in Zimbabwe is over, and that in Malabo they will face the death penalty or a long sentence in the country's notoriously harsh prisons.

[Source: AFP, Harare, Zimbabwe, 27Jul04]

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