SA frees Mugabe-linked ‘mercenaries’

SOUTH Africa released four people accused of running a mercenary outfit, officials said yesterday, but declined comment on reports the firm had bid to provide security to President Robert Mugabe.



na, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>Sipho Ngwema, spokesman for the elite Scorpions crime-busting unit, said four people detained on Wednesday after a raid on the Cape Town office of International Intelligence Risk Management were released without charge.


“We spoke to them until late last night. The four have now been released. They were detained for questioning, they were not arrested,” Ngwema said.

“We are following up the information that we got from them. We suspect that they were recruiting hundreds of mercenaries. We are not releasing any specific information on what countries were involved,” he added.

Local media reports in July quoted International Intelligence Risk Management staff as saying it was bidding for a contract to supply a personal security detail to Mugabe and secure installations in Zimbabwe.

The report said the company also had a contract to supply security to key installations and VIPs in Angola.


Officials at Zimbabwe’s defence and security ministries could not be reached for immediate comment.


A security industry source told Reuters yesterday that in addition to bidding for the Zimbabwe contract, International Intelligence Risk Management had a contract to supply hundreds of security personnel to Iraq.


Recruiting mercenaries for military operations overseas is illegal under South Africa’s Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act, adopted in 1998 to dispel the country’s long association with mercenary activities around the world.


Former soldiers blooded in apartheid-era operations in Namibia and Angola have found lucrative work abroad as either “dogs of war” or security guards, especially since work became scarce at home with the advent of democracy in 1994.


A large number of former South African military personnel are working on security contracts in Iraq or elsewhere, often guarding mines or other installations under contracts with industrial companies.


But the issue of mercenaries – and how much support to offer them if they get into trouble while abroad – has sparked national debate since dozens of South Africans were arrested in March, accused of plotting a coup in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.


Some 70 South African passport holders who say they were bound for mine work in the Democratic Republic of Congo are on trial in Zimbabwe, and 15 more suspected mercenaries led by a South African are awaiting trial in Equatorial Guinea itself.


South Africa has said all should receive a fair trail but has refused to apply to extradite them for trial at home.


* Meanwhile, most of the 70 suspected mercenaries accused in Zimbabwe of plotting to topple Equatorial Guinea’s government yesterday said they were not aware that their plane was picking up weapons when it arrived in Harare.


Sixty-six of the men pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to charges of conspiring to possess dangerous weapons in contravention of Zimbabwe’s tough security laws. They face up to 10 years in jail if convicted.

Zimbabwe has held the men since March 7 when their plane landed in Harare en route for what Zimbabwe officials said was a planned coup against the oil-rich West African state’s leader, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.


The men are all South African passport holders but include men from Angola, Namibia and Britain. They say they were headed to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to guard mining operations.


Yesterday three of the men testified they had no knowledge of the military weapons they are said to have sought to purchase from the state Zimbabwe Defence Industries, including artillery, hand grenades, anti-tank missile launchers and mortar bombs.


“I was not even aware that we would pick up any cargo. As far as I was concerned it was a fuel stop. Our destination was the DRC,” one of the men, Raymond Archer, told a makeshift court at the high security prison where the men are being held.


Police investigator Clemence Madzingo conceded under cross-examination by defence lawyer Jonathan Samkange that equipment seized with the men, including maps, uniforms, mosquito nets and pens, could be used by security guards. — Reuter

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