Mercenaries' Want Court to Help Assure Their Right to Life'

Sixty-nine of the alleged mercenaries held in Zimbabwe sought an order in the Constitutional Court yesterday compelling the South African government to seek assurances that they would not be executed if extradited to Equatorial Guinea.

One of the 70 men arrested at Harare International Airport in March did not take part in the application. Zimbabwe claims the men were on their way to oust Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

Francois Joubert, counsel for the 69 men, told the court yesterday that the right to life enjoyed by all South African citizens would be under threat if the men were extradited to face trial in Equatorial Guinea.

Joubert said it was important for SA to seek such assurances from Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea before the men were extradited to Equatorial Guinea.

The men were concerned that they would not get a fair trial in Equatorial Guinea.

He said there were precedents of other people tried for coup attempts being executed after relatively short trials. "The appropriate stage to do anything would be before the judicial process starts. To wait for the death sentence to be passed would not be appropriate," Joubert said.

Extradition was not the only way that the men could be removed from Zimbabwe. They might be deported to the west African country without due process, said Joubert.

Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson asked Joubert if the Constitutional Court had the power to direct government on how to conduct its business. He also asked if Joubert thought the South African government had the right to seek such assurances from the two countries.

The group arrested in Zimbabwe is scheduled to go on trial in Harare tomorrow on charges of illegally entering the country and seeking to obtain weapons, allegedly to overthrow the government of Equatorial Guinea.

[Source: Ernest Mabuza, Business Day, Johannesburg, South Africa, 20Jul04]

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