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Lawyer: Detained Foreigners in Zimbabwe Not Mercenaries - 2004-03-15

A lawyer representing foreign nationals detained in Zimbabwe a week ago and accused of being mercenaries says 60 of his clients have been charged with lesser violations of immigration and firearms laws.

Jonathan Samkange says he expects several other detainees to be charged Monday.

The men were taken into custody a week ago Sunday, March 7, at Harare airport, and their plane was seized. Zimbabwe authorities accused the men of plotting to carry out a coup in Equatorial Guinea, a small country's on Africa's Atlantic coast that is rich in oil reserves.

Soon afterwards, the government in Equatorial Guinea announced the arrest of 15 other men said to be part of the same plot to topple President Teodoro Obiang.

Senior officials in Zimbabwe have said the suspects -- mostly South Africans, Angolans and Namibians -- face charges of trying to destabilize a sovereign state, and could be sentenced to death. However, a news report quotes the defendants' lawyer as saying there is no legal basis in Zimbabwe for prosecuting anyone plotting a coup or similar action against another state.

The lawyer says the men deny that they are mercenaries.

The operator of the seized plane says the men had been hired as security guards in diamond mines and were on their way to begin work in the Democratic Republic of Congo when they were arrested.

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.