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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Africa 'Mercenaries' Face Death

HARARE, Zimbabwe / DAKAR, Senegal -- Zimbabwe on Wednesday threatened to execute a band of "foreign mercenaries" detained in Harare and Equatorial Guinea, accusing them of being part of a plot funded by "enemy powers" and multinational corporations.

The two developments, in countries 3,200 kilometers apart, came three days after Zimbabwe detained a Boeing 727 carrying more than 60 South Africans, Angolans and Namibians.

Associates of the men insisted they were innocent mine guards swept up in a bizarre misunderstanding, but the two governments stepped up their angry rhetoric.

"They are going to face the severest punishment available in our statutes, including capital punishment," Zimbabwean Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge told a news briefing. "We will give them all the rights they are entitled to."

Zimbabwe state television showed a cargo of what it called "military materiel" aboard the plane, which was seized on Sunday after flying into Harare from South Africa -- camouflage uniforms, sleeping bags, compasses and wire cutters but no guns.

Mudenge said Zimbabwe had been in contact with the government of the oil-rich central African state of Equatorial Guinea, which on Tuesday announced the arrest of 15 "foreign mercenaries," saying they were an advance party connected to the Harare group.

Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo said in a speech late Tuesday that foreign countries had conspired to overthrow him and replace him with an exiled politician living in Spain.

"In the course of questioning, we have found that they were financed by enemy powers, by multinational companies, by countries that do not love us," Obiang said in the speech, broadcast by state radio and television.

He thanked South Africa and Angola for warning him of the plot, but added, "There are other countries who knew about this attempt and did not contribute information. We will have to qualify them as enemies. Multinational firms, operating here and outside who contributed to this operation, are also enemy companies."

He did not identify any of the countries or firms.

The plane's operator, based in Britain's Channel Islands, insisted the seized aircraft, sold by a firm in the United States just a week ago, had been flying security men from South Africa to guard mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It declined to name the customers it was acting for.

Asked about the accusation by Equatorial Guinea, Charles Burrows, a senior executive of Logo Logistics Ltd., said Tuesday, "I haven't the foggiest idea of what they're talking about."

Zimbabwe, bitterly at odds in recent years with the United States and old European colonial powers, said the plot involving the "mercenaries" had been an elaborate one.

"Apparently this was not one mission ... after the diversion in Equatorial Guinea they were going to the D.R.C. [Democratic Republic of Congo]," Mudenge said.

Equatorial Guinea has been rounding up African foreigners since Saturday amid tensions within President Obiang's clan, dominant in the nation of just half a million that is one of Africa's biggest oil producers.