South Africa, Equatorial Guinea agree on fair trial for mercenaries.

South Africa and Equatorial Guinea have agreed on a free and fair trial for eight alleged mercenaries, the Foreign Department said on Monday.

Ronnie Mamoepa, spokesman for the department, said that the agreement was reached by the South African government delegation and their counterparts in talks in Equatorial Guinea on Monday.

The spokesman said that the South African delegation met Equatorial Guinean government officials, prosecuting authorities and law enforcement agencies.

The delegation left on Sunday for Equatorial Guinea in an attempt to ensure a "proper and fair trial" for the South African men held in Malambo on allegations of a coup plot.

"There was a broad general consensus among others on the need for the trial to be transparent, access by lawyers and family members to the detainees and fairness," Mamoepa said.

He added that the two government delegations were expected to meet several times this week. "This ongoing consultations may accordingly impact on the anticipated trial date."

According to an earlier report from Zimbabwe, the trial in Zimbabwe of 70 suspected mercenaries accused of plotting a coup inEquatorial Guinea was adjourned for a second straight day on Thursday with defense attorneys denying the new delay was linked to a possible plea bargain.

Defense attorney Alwyn Griebenow of South Africa said that the hearing was adjourned at the request of state prosecutors after itwas acknowledged that evidence and witness statements needed to be"streamlined."

"There is no question of plea bargaining. We are going to streamline the matter to cut down on the number of witnesses and the amount of evidence," Griebenow said.

The suspects were detained after landing at Zimbabwe's Harare International Airport on March 7 and are accused of conspiring to carry out a coup in the tiny, oil-rich west African nation of Equatorial Guinea with weapons bought in Zimbabwe.

They are charged with violating Zimbabwe's immigration, firearms and security laws that carry a penalty of between 10 years and life imprisonment in Zimbabwe.

According to media reports, Zimbabwean prosecutors might have considered a plea bargain under which the suspects would have admitted to some lesser charges in return for lenient sentences.

[Source: Xinhuanet, Johannesburg, 26Jul04]

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