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Zimbabwe 'mercenaries planned jail escape'


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By Agencies

PROSECUTORS told a Zimbabwe court on Monday that 70 suspected mercenaries charged with plotting a coup in Equatorial Guinea were planning to break out of jail and would from now on be held in leg irons.

State prosecutor Lawrence Phiri said information was received about a plan to airlift the men from Chikurubi Maximum Security prison on the outskirts of Harare where the group have been held since their arrest on March 7.

The 70 men were detained at Harare International Airport almost two months ago when their Boeing 727 stopped to refuel and pick up military equipment.

The Zimbabwean authorities claim they were on their way to join 15 suspected mercenaries arrested in Equatorial Guinea and charged with plotting to overthrow the government of the oil-rich central African nation.

But the 70, most of whom are from South Africa, have said they were on their way to the Democratic Republic of Congo to work as security guards at a diamond mine.

The court on Monday heard details of the alleged plan but journalists were barred from attending the hearing.

"The information was that there were plans to spring the prisoners out of Chikurubi," Phiri told the court in open session.

Phiri said the order to clamp the men back in leg irons came on Friday morning.

"The authorities saw it fit that until further notice the prisoners will be kept in leg irons," he said.

Defence lawyer Jonathan Samkange protested the move, saying "I'm certainly not prepared to have the accused tried in leg irons".

"It is not free and fair. I'm going to move that the prison officials be held in contempt of court," Samkange said.

He said the court order allowing them to appear in court without shackles was being "flagrantly disobeyed turning this place into a circus". AFP
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