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Zim rejects extradition bid

Vincent Kahiya

IN a new twist to the case of 70 suspected mercenaries held in Harare, the government of Equatorial Guinea wants the men extradited to that country to face trial.

T face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>The Zimbabwe Independent can reveal that officials from Equatorial Guinea were in Harare two weeks ago in a bid to negotiate extradition of the suspected “dogs of war” who are incarcerated at Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison.

The request for extradition was passed on to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi yesterday confirmed that Equatorial Guinea had made the request. He said Zimbabwe could not extradite the men before they had been tried.

“It is true that the government of Equatorial Guinea wants these people to answer certain charges being levelled against them in that country,” said Mohadi.

“It (the extradition) would be after conviction,” said Mohadi. “The men have to be tried first and if they are convicted it is up to (the Ministry of) Justice to make that decision.

“We have different roles isn’t it? Mine is to apprehend criminals,” he said.

Equatorial Guinea is currently holding a group of 15 men who are believed to be linked to the 70 held in Harare. It is alleged that the men wanted to stage a coup in Equatorial Guinea to remove the regime of Teodoro Nguema Obiang.

Obiang’s government has said that the suspects could be hanged if found guilty.

Public Prosecutions director Jo-seph Musakwa confirmed yester-day that officials from Equatorial Guinea did visit Zimbabwe and met various officials.

“Naturally we in prosecution met them as part of the liaison but I am not at liberty to say what was discussed,” he said.

The lawyer representing the 70men, Jonathan Samkange, on Wed-nesday confirmed to the Indepe-ndent that Equatorial Guinea re-presentatives held meetings with Zimbabwean officials.

“I can confirm that I was invited to the meeting by officials from the Attorney-General’s office,” said Samkange. “I did not attend the meeting because I did not see any benefit accruing to my clients from attending such a meeting.”

Government sources this weeksaid the Equatorial Guinea offi-cials met with officials from the Ministry of Justice and state security agents on the issue of extraditing the mercenaries. It is understood that the visitors wanted assistance in firming up the prosecution of their case.

The request by Equatorial Guinea comes amid reports this week that a key member of the suspected mercenaries being detained at Chikurubi, Simon Witherspoon, was on bail on murder and assault charges when he was arrested in Harare last month.

Prosecutors in Zimbabwe con-sider Witherspoon and Simon Mann, together with Nick du Toit who was arrested in Equatorial Guinea, the architects of the alleged coup plot.

Witherspoon, together with five other men, is facing charges of murdering a suspected thief in August 2001 in Pietermaritzburg and the assault of another suspected thief on the same day.

The Independent this week heard that South Africa wants to set up a special court that would hear evidence from Witherspoon on the murder charge. A formal request from South Africa has already been tendered to Zimbabwe for the court to come and sit in Zimbabwe.

However, Musakwa said South Africa’s request was unusual and he doubted if Zimbabwe would allow the South African court to sit in Zimbabwe.

The suspected mercenaries areexpected to appear in court today when their defence team of Samkange and Advocates Alwyn Grie-benow and Francois Joubert is expected to appeal for their discharge.

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