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Former British Soldier Jailed in Zimbabwe Fights Extradition to Equatorial Guinea

Simon Mann a former officer in the British Army has begun fighting a demand for his extradition to Equatorial Guinea where he is wanted for trial. Equatorial Guinea claims he was the mastermind behind a failed coup d'etat in 2004. Mann was arrested in Harare in 2004 along with 69 former South African soldiers who Equatorial Guinea says were planning to overthrow their government.

Mann is serving a four-year sentence for firearms charges at Chikurubi maximum security prison about 24 kilometers southeast of Harare.

He was not in court for the first hearing in connection with a request by Equatorial Guinea for his extradition.

According to papers in the Harare Magistrate's Court, President Theodoro Obiang Nguema, leader of the tiny oil-rich West African state, claims that Mann hired mercenaries to kill him and install a former exiled opposition leader Severo Moto, then living in Spain.

Mann was arrested in March 2004 shortly after a plane carrying scores of former South African soldiers touched down in Harare.

Tipped off by South African intelligence, Zimbabwean agents stormed the aircraft and arrested them.

In a pre-trial examination, Mann told Zimbabwe investigators the $100,000 consignment of weapons he had bought in Zimbabwe and was going to load onto the aircraft, were for a security job at a diamond mine in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As Zimbabwe did not have anti-mercenary legislation at that time, prosecutors were only able to charge them with relatively minor offenses.

The South Africans were found guilty of immigration and aviation charges and were released last year.

Mann is due to be released next May.

Now, according to Mann's lawyer, Jonathan Samkange, "this application for extradition will be vigorously opposed."

He said he will also need proof that Severo Moto has been extradited to Equatorial Guinea from Spain for the trial. He also said he would need the attorney general of Equatorial Guinea to answer questions.

Magistrate Omega Mogumbate agreed and postponed the next hearing until Equatorial Guinea's attorney general, Jose Olo Obono, is available to the court.

There are still five South Africans serving sentences in connection with the alleged coup plot in Equatorial Guinea.

Group leader, Nick du Toit, a former member of South Africa's elite Special Forces, who claims he was tortured into making a 'coup plot' confession, is serving a 34-year sentence.

Neither his family nor South African diplomats have been able to contact him since February. When last seen, he was so thin he was barely able to stand.

Since Mann's arrest, President Robert Mugabe established diplomatic relations with Equatorial Guinea and cash strapped Zimbabwe says it is now hoping for supplies of cheap fuel.