Zimbabwe Plans to Try Alleged Mercenaries

Sixty-four suspected mercenaries allegedly hired to overthrow the government of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea will face charges in Zimbabwe, along with their three-man flight crew, the attorney general said Thursday.

Attorney General Bharat Patel (search) was quoted by state radio as saying the men, who were arrested Sunday when their aging Boeing 727-L100 stopped at Harare International Airport (search), are expected to appear in court Friday or Saturday.

Patel said the men would be charged under Zimbabwe's aviation, firearms and immigration laws. Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge has said they could face the death penalty, but none of the charges mentioned by Patel are capital offenses.

Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi said Wednesday that Equatorial Guinea's rebel leader, Severo Moto, had offered the group $1.8 million and oil rights for overthrowing President Teodoro Obiang Ngeuma.

The suspected mercenaries, who are from various African countries, were also allegedly planning to supply guns and other assistance to rebels in eastern Congo.

Mohadi claimed the CIA, together with British and Spanish intelligence agencies, had persuaded Equatorial Guinea's (search) police and military chiefs to cooperate with the coup plotters by promising them Cabinet posts in the new government. The agencies also were supplying the plotters with communications equipment, he said.

Fifteen other alleged mercenaries were arrested in Equatorial Guinea on Tuesday, also on suspicions of plotting to overthrow the government.

South Africa's foreign minister met with an Equatorial Guinea delegation Thursday in Pretoria to discuss the issue. South Africans account for 20 of the 64 men detained in Zimbabwe, with most of the others being from Namibia and Angola.

The South Africans, who include former members of the South African military, could also face anti-mercenary charges at home, South African President Thabo Mbeki said.

Details of the coup plot came from an alleged co-conspirator who was detained Sunday as he waited to meet the plane, Mohadi said. He has been identified as Simon Mann, a British agent allegedly involved in efforts to buy weapons from Zimbabwe's state arms maker.

Angolan Foreign Minister Joao Miranda said his government believed the suspects once belonged to the Buffalo Battalion (search), a disbanded South African army unit composed of foreign soldiers, many of them from Portuguese-speaking countries. The unit fought in Namibia and Angola in the 1970s and 1980s.

Along with the plane, Zimbabwe authorities seized what they called "military materials" - including satellite telephones, radios, backpacks, hiking boots, bolt cutters and an inflatable raft. There were no reports of weapons on the plane.

The plane's registration number is assigned to Dodson Aviation Inc. of Ottawa, Kan. However, the company said it sold the aircraft about a week ago.