Zimbabwe court finds Briton guilty of trying to buy coup arms.

The former Special Air Service officer Simon Mann was found guilty by a Zimbabwe magistrate yesterday of attempting illegally to buy weapons to be used to stage a coup in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.

He will be sentenced on Sept 10.

His co-accused, 66 men he recruited for the operation, were acquitted of weapons charges under Zimbabwe's tough security laws.

Simon Mann at the makeshift courthouse in Harare Mann was expressionless when the magistrate, Mishrod Guvamombe, read out the verdict in a shed that served as a makeshift court in the maximum security Chikurubi prison on the outskirts of Harare.

"The action by the accused amounts at the most to attempting to purchase firearms. The accused is found guilty," said Mr Guvamombe.

Mann was accused by the Zimbabwe government of being the leader of a plot to overthrow the regime of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.

He was arrested with 69 other alleged mercenaries on March 7 at Harare International Airport. They were detained when a Boeing 727 that flew in from South Africa stopped off to refuel and collect a 100,000 consignment of weapons, including anti-tank mortars and rocket launchers.

The accused all said they were on their way to guard a mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

State prosecutors have asked for a 10-year jail sentence for Mann.

The court acquitted 66 other suspected mercenaries of weapons charges, but they, and the three-man air crew, have still to face sentence for relatively minor offences of contravening immigration and firearms laws.

"The manner in which they were recruited arouses some suspicion, however the suspicion alone is not enough," Mr Guvamombe said.

"The state failed to discharge its onus by proving the accused persons guilty beyond reasonable doubt."

The prosecution has asked for jail terms of between one year to 18 months for violations of immigration regulations that 67 of the men, including the three-member crew, are facing.

[Source: By Peta Thornycroft, The Telegraph, UK, 28Aug04]

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