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Pretoria - Nineteen men, alleged members of a Congolese rebel group - including one US citizen - sought outside help in their effort to overthrow DRC President Joseph Kabila, offering mining rights in their resource-rich country in exchange for weapons and training, a prosecutor said on Thursday.
The men, who allegedly belong to a dissident group known as the Union of Nationalists for Renewal (UNR), were planning to pose as an anti-rhino-poaching unit while undergoing special military training, the court heard.
The accused were arrested in Limpopo this week.
According to court documents, the UNR consists of about 9 000 rebels who are dissatisfied with the current leadership of the DRC.
The court, which was packed to the brim, heard from State prosecutor Shaun Abrahams that the men intended to overthrow the DRC government by means of conventional warfare. They planned to use several high-calibre weapons, including AK-47s, and air-to-air missiles.
Abrahams said the plot, apparently led by a man who claims to be the eldest son of the DRC’s assassinated president Laurent Kabila, posed a serious danger to the stability of a nation long engulfed by conflict. The men wanted to “wage a full-scale war” in mineral-rich eastern DRC, Abrahams said. “The accused would take back the (DRC) by coup and conventional warfare.”
The alleged rebels acknowledged they had no cash, but promised the undercover officers they would receive mining rights in the country’s east as payment for their services, Abrahams said.
The men were arrested in an early morning sting operation on Tuesday following months of information-gathering by the SAPS’s Counter Terrorism Unit.
The court heard that before their arrest, since September, several meetings had taken place between the members at various locations in Gauteng, as well as a game farm near Modimolle in Limpopo.
Abrahams told the court that during one of the meetings, the members agreed to receive specialised military training for about six weeks at the Modimolle farm.
A training curriculum was compiled by the leader of the group, and one of the accused provided a list containing the names of those who would receive the specialised training. “Some of the names of the accused appear on that list, and it will be presented during the bail application,” Abrahams said.
Evidence in possession of the State included an arms and ammunition “wish-list”, as well as audio and video footage of the meetings.
Photographs of several of the members posing with AK-47s were also obtained.
Abrahams told the court that two members of the group were still at large. It was suspected that they were still in South Africa.
They have been identified as Etienne Kabila, and a man known only as General Jakatumba.
The accused face charges of violating the Foreign Military Assistance Act for conduct amounting to mercenary activity in South Africa. They face an alternative charge of rendering foreign military assistance and have yet to plead.
The case has been postponed to February 14 for further investigations, as well as to allow verification of the addresses of the accused, their legal status as well as criminal profiling. The State made it clear it would oppose bail.
Magistrate Maryke de la Rey heard several complaints from the accused, who felt their rights had been violated as they had been denied contact with their families and medical treatment. Some of the accused indicated they had legal documents allowing them access into the country.
De la Rey explained that although some individuals had legal documentation authorising them to be in the country, a certificate needed to be issued by the Department of Home Affairs, and addresses needed to be verified by the state.
Etienne Kabila, who is on the run, claims to be the son of the DRC’s assassinated president, something the Kabila family denies.
The late Laurent Kabila’s son, Joseph, is the current DRC president.
DRC Information Minister Lambert Mende told The Associated Press on Thursday the government wanted those accused to be extradited to face justice in the DRC.
“Concerning the so-called Etienne Kabila: we know this is not his first coup (attempt); he has always been used for a long time by all the enemies of the DRC,” Mende said.
Accused number one, James Kazongo, was identified as a US citizen. US Embassy spokesman Jack Hillmeyer confirmed that Kazongo was a US citizen and said a consular officer had been to see him on Wednesday.