- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwe accused Britain, the United States and Spain yesterday of plotting a coup in the oil-rich African nation of Equatorial Guinea and threatened 67 suspected mercenaries arrested at the Harare airport with the death penalty.

Zimbabwean Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi said Simon Mann, the British leader of the group and a former member of the British Special Air Service, confessed under police questioning to a plan to oust President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea.

The leader of the small West African state said yesterday that he was certain the arrested men had been preparing to oust him. He also said President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa had warned him that mercenaries were heading to his country.

The accusation by Zimbabwe is likely to further poison its relations with the West. It could be exploited by the regime of President Robert Mugabe, which constantly refers in the state-run media to “white, imperialist, British plots to destabilize Africa.”

Zimbabwe says the arrested men planned to install Severo Moto Nsa, a dissident politician from Equatorial Guinea who leads a “government in exile” in Spain, and that some of the men were to be handed Cabinet positions. Mr. Mohadi said Mr. Mann had been paid $1.8 million to carry out the coup.

Zimbabwe raised the stakes when it said that if the 67 men were proven to be mercenaries, they would face the death penalty.

“They are going to face the severest punishment available in our statutes, including capital punishment,” Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge said.

In Equatorial Guinea, state television showed a man it said was the leader of a 15-strong “advance party” of mercenaries associated with the group arrested in Zimbabwe.

Speaking in English translated into Spanish, the man, who was identified as Nick du Toit, a white South African, admitted to a plot to remove the president.

“It wasn’t a question of taking the life of the head of state, but of spiriting him away, taking him to Spain and forcing him into exile and then installing the government in exile of Severo Moto Nsa,” he said.

Charles Burrows, senior executive of Logo Logistics, the British security firm that had chartered the aircraft that was seized, said Equatorial Guinea was one of its clients. But he denied accusations that 15 Logo employees working in Equatorial Guinea were preparing a coup.

The purported plot was revealed Sunday night when Zimbabwean authorities seized the plane and arrested the 64 men on board and three Logo employees who met it on the tarmac.

Mr. Burrows said the aircraft was delivering men and equipment to commercial mining sites in Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

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