Yet another delay in trial of 'mercenaries'

By Time of article published Jul 21, 2004

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By Stella Mapenzauswa

Harare - The Zimbabwean trial of 70 men charged with seeking to topple the government of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea was postponed until Thursday after lawyers said they needed more time to finalise charges.

Defence lawyer Jonathan Samkange said both the defence and prosecution had agreed to the delay, which the court approved at a brief hearing on Wednesday.

"We are just going through the charges," Samkange told journalists after the hearing at the high-security prison complex where the trial is due to take place.

The men were arrested in March after their plane landed in Harare en route to what Zimbabwe officials said was a mission to oust the small west African state's leader, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

The defendants, who all carry South African passports, appeared in the makeshift prison courtroom in khaki prison garb and shackles. Some of them flashed smiles at family members in court.

The men and their families murmured when the magistrate adjourned the court barely five minutes into Wednesday's hearing, the second postponement of a case initially due to start on July 19.

The court granted the first postponement to allow defence lawyers to appeal at South Africa's Constitutional Court for a ruling which would ask Pretoria to seek their extradition, on the basis that they were in danger of being sent to Equatorial Guinea and a possible death sentence.

The South African court has reserved judgement in that case, although legal observers say they do not expect a ruling in favour of the accused.

The defendants have denied acting as mercenaries, saying they were heading to the Democratic Republic of Congo to guard mining operations.

A further 15 men are already held in Equatorial Guinea charged with involvement in a coup plot.

British lawyers acting for Obiang, his government and the west African state said this week they were seeking millions of pounds in compensation from the men in a separate court case.

The lawyers said papers were being served on Simon Mann, a former member of Britain's special forces and the man suspected of being the group's leader, as well as Greg Wales, a London businessman, Eli Calil, a London oil tycoon, and Severo Moto, an exiled opposition leader, in Equatorial Guinea.

In April, Obiang said he was in talks with Zimbabwe on the men's possible extradition to Equatorial Guinea, but President Robert Mugabe's government has not made any announcement.

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