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SA urged to help 'soldiers of misfortune'

Published May 20, 2004


It is a justice system with broken scales that suspected mercenaries will face in Equatorial Guinea.

South African experts in international law on Wednesday described the judicial system in that country as clouded by suspicion of bias and allegations of human rights violations.

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Yet this is the place where a number of South Africans, suspected of trying to overthrow the regime of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, will be placed on trial.

It is also the place to which Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe wants to extradite 70 others held in connection with the alleged plot.

"We have no legal way to get them out of there," Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa said.

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However, the South African government has also made it clear it is not going to try.

"The team has made several recommendations aimed at assisting the authorities in the capital Malabo to conduct a just and fair trial," Mamoepa said.

"The South African government firmly believes that by engaging the government of Equatorial Guinea on this matter it will make a small but positive contribution to the justice system in Equatorial Guinea."

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In April, the Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions, advocate Jan Henning, said the alleged South African mercenaries in Equatorial Guinea would not get a fair trial. He visited Equatorial Guinea after the arrests.

Henning recommended to Director of Public Prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka that South Africa distance itself from any prosecution.

"As a prosecuting authority, we cannot become involved in what we see as an unfair legal process," he said. His reasons were that the men were injured and their basic human rights had been violated.

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But a spokesperson for the National Prosecuting Authority, Makhosini Nkosi, on Wednesday said this was Henning's own opinion and not an official decision. The Scorpions are helping investigators from Equatorial Guinea with their probe.

Advocate Brian Spilg SC, from the General Council of the Bar, is one who believes there is no fair-trial procedure in the central African country.

"Equatorial Guinea is a repressive regime whose continued human rights abuses are well documented. There is no form of justice in any recognised sense," he said.

This is similar to the United Nations' views on the country's justice system - the UN has been barred from further probing human rights there.

This is what the last UN special representative's report had to say on Equatorial Guinea: "The special representative has repeatedly drawn attention to the absence of an independent qualified judiciary in Equatorial Guinea and nothing has changed in this regard and, because of the legal insecurity that prevails, the arbitrary detentions, inhuman treatment and torture described in the preceding section continue as if they were perfectly normal."

The UN has also expressed concerns about the independence of the judiciary.

In a report, Amnesty International said alleged German mercenary Gerhard Eugen Nershz was reported to have died of cerebral malaria.

"People who saw him reported that he appeared to have severe injuries caused by torture on his hands and feet," the report states.

Amnesty noted that it had happened before that the government of Equatorial Guinea had "invented" coup plots to clamp down on the opposition.

"In 2002 more than 60 people were convicted of attacking state security and attempting to overthrow the government, on the basis of confessions extracted under torture after an unfair trial," the report states.

Amnesty International said that although it did not condone the activities of mercenaries, anyone arrested on suspicion of involvement in such activities had the right not to be subjected to torture and the right to a fair trial.

On the conditions under which alleged mercenaries are being held in Zimbabwe, the General Council of the Bar in South Africa said the men continued to be denied basic prisoner rights.

"Since the end of April, prison authorities have continued to keep the men handcuffed and in leg irons, both day and night.

"They therefore have been required to sleep and eat while handcuffed and chained, which is a virtual impossibility considering they are cuffed in cross-armed fashion.

"Socks given to them to stop the cutting effect of the leg irons were confiscated, and prison authorities refused to distribute jerseys that had been collected for the men," said the council.


2002 - Alleged British coup financier Greg Wales meets exiled Equatorial Guinean opposition leader Severo Moto in Spain.

2003 - Lebanese financier Ely Calil is introduced to the scene and is later pointed out as the main financier behind the alleged plot to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

October 03 - Small group of alleged mercenaries and opposition supporters allegedly start training in preparation for the alleged coup attempt in EG.

2004 Jan-Feb

January - Former British SAS member Simon Mann flies to Gabon with Wales and later meets Moto and supporters, who put a plan to him.

January 4 - Wales meets Nic du Toit and allegedly proposes plan to overthrow EG government.

January 7 - Follow-up meeting between Du Toit, Wales and Mann.

- Du Toit allegedly starts to recruit mercenaries from Angola, Mozambique and South Africa, mostly from former SADF 32 Battalion.

- Mann and Du Toit fly to Harare reportedly to set up arms-buying deal in Zimbabwe.

- March 1st week - Mann's company, Logo Logistics, purchases Boeing 727 from ailing Dodson Aviation.

March 5 - 727 leaves Florida, United States, and heads to Sao Tome/Principe

March 6 - Leaves Sao Tomé Principe for Lanseria Airport, near Johannesburg.

March 7 - Leaves Lanseria for Wonderboom Airport in Pretoria and picks up alleged mercenaries, bringing the total on board to 70.

March 7 4pm - depart from Wonderboom for Polokwane Airport for clearance to Harare and beyond. Flight plan destination: Bujumbura in Burundi.

March 7 - Land at Harare Airport, taxi to restricted military area, are arrested.

March 8-15 - Men arrested in Equatorial Guinea, among them seven South Africans, one German who dies (March 18) and several Armenians.

March 16 - Lebanese oil trader Ely Calil is named by Nic du Toit as mastermind behind alleged plot.

March 18 - German detainee Gerhard Eugen Nershz dies in prison. Zimbabwean judge orders investigations into torture claims by those held in Harare.

March 24 - Detainees in Zimbabwe make their first court appearance. 25 Zimbabwean prison officials are charged with assaulting the 70 men detained there.

March 28 - Zimbabwean officials are arrested for collaborating with the alleged mercenaries held in that country. It is believed that the officials agreed to sell arms to the men.


April 18 - Detainees in Zimbabwe are charged with another crime - "plotting to overthrow a foreign government".

April 27 - Zimbabwe revises its extradition policy with Equatorial Guinea.

April 30 - Zimbabwe agrees to hand 70 detained men to Equatorial Guinea.

May 14 - A Zimbabwean magistrate upholds the charges against the Harare detainees. The men's lawyers plan to appeal against the verdict.

May 18 - South Africa given a deadline to either help those detained in Zimbabwe or face court action.

May 19 - Government refuse to intervene.

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