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By Agencies

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has rejected an extradition request for 70 alleged mercenaries accused of plotting a coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea, a state newspaper reported on Saturday.

Mugabe and Minister of Home Affairs Kembo Mohadi met with two envoys sent by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of the oil-rich West African nation, The Herald reported.

"They wanted the extradition of the suspected mercenaries to Equatorial Guinea, where we said it is not possible, since it will be against international laws," Mohadi was quoted as saying after talks at Mugabe's official residence, Zimbabwe House.

The Herald quoted unnamed legal experts who said Zimbabwe cannot turn the suspects -- mostly former members of South Africa's apartheid-era military forces -- over to Equatorial Guinea because a new extradition treaty between the two countries was not yet in effect when they were arrested.

He said Nguema also requested evidence to use at the trial of 14 other suspected mercenaries, which begins in Equatorial Guinea on Monday.

Government officials were not available on Saturday to confirm the report.

In Zimbabwe, the trial is under way for 67 of the 70 men who were arrested in March after landing at Harare International airport in their ageing Boeing 727.

Prosecutors say Equatorial Guinea's Spanish-based rebel leader, Severo Moto, offered the group $1,8-million and oil rights to overthrow Nguema. The suspects are accused of ordering assault rifles, grenades, anti-tank rocket launchers and other weapons from the government-owned Zimbabwe Defence Industries.

The suspects deny the charges, which carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, saying they were on their way to guard mines in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo.

They have already pleaded guilty to immigration and aviation violations punishable by up to two years in jail.

Weapons charges were dropped against three of the 70 men, but they are still facing conspiracy and security charges. -- Sapa-AP

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