Zimbabwe Talks of Death Penalty for ‘Mercenaries’
Cris Chinaka and David Clarke, abcnews.com, Mar. 10
HARARE, Zimbabwe /DAKAR, Senegal (Reuters) — Zimbabwe Wednesday threatened to execute a band of “foreign mercenaries” detained in Harare and Equatorial Guinea accused them of being part of a plot funded by “enemy powers” and multinational corporations.
The two developments, in countries 2,000 miles apart, came three days after Zimbabwe detained a Boeing 727 carrying more than 60 South Africans, Angolans and Namibians.
Associates of the men insisted they were innocent mine guards swept up in a bizarre misunderstanding, but the two governments stepped up their angry rhetoric.
“They are going to face the severest punishment available in our statutes, including capital punishment,” Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge told a news briefing. “We will give them all the rights they are entitled to.” Zimbabwe state television showed a cargo of what it called “military materiel” aboard the plane seized Sunday after flying into Harare from South Africa — camouflage uniforms, sleeping bags, compasses and wire cutters but no guns.
Mudenge said Zimbabwe had been in contact with the government of the oil-rich central African state of Equatorial Guinea, which Tuesday announced the arrest of 15 “foreign mercenaries” saying they were an advance party connected to the Harare group.
Equatorial Guinea’s President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo said in a speech late Tuesday foreign countries had conspired to overthrow him and replace him with an exiled politician living in Spain.
“In the course of questioning, we have found that they were financed by enemy powers, by multinational companies, by countries that do not love us,” Obiang said in the speech, broadcast by state radio and television.
He thanked South Africa and Angola for warning him of the plot, but added:
“There are other countries who knew about this attempt and did not contribute information. We will have to qualify them as enemies. Multinational firms operating here and outside who contributed to this operation are also enemy companies.”
He did not identify any of the countries or firms.
“MINE GUARDS” The plane’s operator, based in Britain’s Channel Islands, insisted the seized aircraft, sold by a firm in the United States just a week ago, had been flying security men from South Africa to guard mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It declined to name the customers it was acting for.
Asked about the accusation by Equatorial Guinea, Charles Burrows, a senior executive of Logo Logistics Ltd, said on Tuesday: “I haven’t the foggiest idea of what they’re talking about.”
Zimbabwe, bitterly at odds in recent years with the United States and old European colonial powers, said the plot involving the “mercenaries” had been an elaborate one.
“Apparently this was not one mission… after the diversion in Equatorial Guinea they were going to the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo),” Mudenge said.
Equatorial Guinea has been rounding up African foreigners since Saturday amid tensions within President Obiang’s clan, dominant in a nation of just half a million that is one of Africa’s biggest oil producers.
One senior foreign diplomat there said on Tuesday: “There was an attempted coup which was foiled. It was intense yesterday evening but now the tension has dropped. The town is calm.”
Obiang seized power from his uncle in 1979 and has been wooed by Nigeria and Western oil firms. Last year the country pumped 350,000 barrels per day, ranking third in sub-Saharan Africa behind Nigeria and Angola.
The oil wealth has been unevenly shared, critics say. Human rights groups accuse Obiang of jailing and torturing opponents.
Government officials said the 15 suspects had arrived in December. One had confessed to acting for a Lebanese businessman close to Severo Moto, president of a self-styled “government-in-exile.”
Moto was exiled to Spain for plotting a coup in his homeland, where Frederick Forsyth wrote a classic 1970s tale of mercenary skullduggery, “The Dogs of War.”