DRC coup plot accused denies guiltComment on this story
Pretoria - Etienne Kabila, the man accused of being the leader of a group of rebels plotting to overthrow Democratic Republic of the Congo president Joseph Kabila, claims he is an innocent man who did nothing wrong.
Kabila and 19 other alleged coup plotters pleaded not guilty in the High Court in Pretoria on Tuesday to a charge of contravening the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act by engaging in mercenary activity or rendering foreign military assistance without authorisation.
The also pleaded not guilty to contravening the local Riotous Assemblies Act by conspiring to murder President Kabila and 15 top members of his government.
Kabila was the only one of the 19 Congolese men to hand in a statement in explanation of his plea.
He denied recruiting anyone to be part of a coup plot and said he never asked for military assistance, nor did he plan a coup in the DRC with anyone.
He also denied entering into an agreement with anyone to supply weapons and equipment that might be used in a coup or conspiring to commit murder.
He said he had been invited to attend a meeting with two men (undercover members of the police's investigation unit, the Hawks) whom he believed were willing to sponsor his return to the DRC.
He alleged he had immediately distanced himself when the men asked him to pay US7000 per person if he wanted them to receive military training.
One of the accused, who apparently suffers from high blood pressure, was granted leave to be absent from the trial so that he could receive medical attention.
Fourteen of the accused launched an application for the court to declare the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act unconstitutional, arguing that the Act was unclear and ambiguous.
Judge Billy Mothle made it clear that there were other parties who would be affected by such a ruling who should have been notified of the application.
He said he could not hear the application without all of the parties before court, but nevertheless allowed legal argument to proceed so that he could determine if the accused even had an arguable case.
Counsel for the applicants said it was not merely an academic debate, because people were being deprived of their liberty.
It was also argued that the Act seemed to make provision for the approval of rendering of military assistance to overthrow another government, provided the National Conventional Arms Control Committee authorised it, which was in itself, according to the applicants, unconstitutional.
Just because it was a political decision, it did not mean that the government's decision did not have to be constitutional, the court was told.
Judge Mothle repeatedly stated that he failed to follow the applicants' legal contentions and pointed out that the Act was broad enough to cover even legitimate foreign military assistance.
The State opposed the application, saying the applicants had failed to follow court rules and also failed to state clearly which parts of the Constitution they alleged were breached by which sections of the Act.
It was argued that South Africa, as members of the African Union and United Nations, had an international obligation to eradicate mercenary activities.
The African Union recently promulgated a draft protocol to create an African Court of Justice and Human Rights among others aimed at combating mercenary activities and clearly defined such activities as a crime, the court was told.
The State argued that the Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act was specifically created so that South Africa was not seen as a safe haven for mercenaries.
Nineteen of the men, including US-Congolese citizen James Kazongo, were arrested on February 5 last year in a police raid in Limpopo.
The group's alleged leader, Etienne Kabila, who claims to be the DRC President's half-brother, was arrested in Cape Town three days later after handing himself over to the police.
The State alleges the group were members of a dissident organisation in the DRC known as the Union of Nationalists for Renewal and were dissatisfied with the current leadership of the DRC government under Joseph Kabila's leadership.
The trial continues.