'Mercenaries' saga: Key dates.

A group of 70 suspected mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe four months ago on charges of plotting a coup in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea go on trial on Wednesday.

Here are some of the key events leading up to the trial of the "Harare 70".

March 7:

Zimbabwe authorities announce the arrest of 70 suspected mercenaries. 67 of the men were on board a Boeing private jet that had landed at Harare international airport from South Africa to pick up weapons. The three other men, including the alleged leader Simon Mann, were already in Zimbabwe and waiting for their arrival at the airport.

Zimbabwe maintains that the men were en route to join 15 others in Equatorial Guinea to topple President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

March 9:

Obiang announces the arrest in Malabo of 15 men he says were plotting to overthrow him and accuses opposition leader Severo Moto, who is living in exile in Madrid, of being behind the attempted coup.

A man identified as South African Nick du Toit, 48, the alleged leader of the group of 15, appears on television in Equatorial Guinea, saying the mercenaries were on a mission to abduct Obiang and force him into exile.

March 13:

Obiang says the 15 suspected mercenaries face the death penalty, adding: "If we have to kill them, we will kill them."

March 18:

South Africa denies a report in Spain's El Pais newspaper that the alleged leader of the mercenary force, Nick du Toit, had died from torture in Malabo's notorious Black Beach prison.

Malabo announces that one of the men, German national Gerhard Eugen Nershz, had died from cerebral malaria.

The newspaper also says that one of the South Africans in the group, that also includes Armenians and Angolans, was working for the president's security detail.

March 23:

At their first court appearance in the Chikurubi maximum security prison on the outskirts of Harare, the 70 suspected mercenaries are formally charged with illegal possession and purchase of weapons, and with violations of firearms, immigration and civil aviation legislation.

April 7:

Equatorial Guinea's interior minister says the alleged mercenaries planned to kill the president and his entire family.

April 8:

Zimbabwe's justice minister says he will investigate allegations by some of the 70 detained men that they were beaten in prison.

April 13:

The 70 suspected mercenaries make another court appearance in Chikurubi.

April 27:

Lawyers representing the 70 suspected mercenaries request that they be released and produce a witness who testifies that the men were on their way to the Democratic Republic of Congo to guard a diamond mine.

April 29:

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe agrees to extradite the 70 men to face trial in Equatorial Guinea following talks with Obiang in Bulawayo, a reliable source reveals.

May 12:

Zimbabwe prosecutors claim that the alleged leader of the group of 70 men, Simon Mann, had signed a contract with opposition leader Severo Moto to topple the regime in Equatorial Guinea.

June 9:

The Pretoria High court rejects a request by the families of the 70 mercenaries held in Zimbabwe to force President Thabo Mbeki's government to seek their extradition to South Africa.

June 23:

Trial date for the 70 mercenaries is set for July 19.

July 9:

Equatorial Guinea files complaints in Britain and Spain, citing opposition leader Severo Moto and businessman Elie Calil of Lebanese origin, management consultant Greg Wales and Simon Mann for being behind the alleged coup plot.

July 10:

The trial of the 70 mercenaries is postponed to July 21.

July 13:

Trial of 12 prison guards charged with beating some of the 70 suspected mercenaries is postponed to July 27.

July 19:

South Africa's constitutional court hears appeal from families of suspected mercenaries who want to force President Thabo Mbeki's government to seek the extradition of the men from Zimbabwe.

[Sourece: News 24.com, South Africa, 20Jul04]

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