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Zimbabwe: West aided 'mercenaries'

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Zimbabwe seizes plane
• Equatorial Guinea foils 'plot'
• 'Mercenary' arrests cause stir across Africa
• South Africa battles image as home to 'dogs of war'
Equatorial Guinea
United States

HARARE, Zimbabwe -- Zimbabwe has accused U.S., British and Spanish spy agencies of helping suspected mercenaries detained in Harare to overthrow Equatorial Guinea's government.

The 64 men, mainly Angolans, South Africans and Namibians, were arrested in the Zimbabwean capital on Sunday after arriving on a Boeing 727, officials said. The plane is currently impounded.

Meanwhile on Wednesday, 15 men were also under arrest 3,200 kilometers (2,000 miles) away in Equatorial Guinea. The president of the small central Africa country said the groups were part of a coup plot funded by "enemy powers" and multinationals.

Zimbabwe's Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi backed those claims, telling reporters the mercenaries were trying to overthrow the government of Equitorial Guinea

"They were aided by the British secret service, that is MI6, ...American Central Intelligence Agency and the Spanish secret service," Reuters quoted him as saying.

Earlier Wednesday, Zimbabwe's Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge threatened to execute the 64 men arrested in Harare.

It was unclear as to what crime they might be charged with under Zimbabwean law, but Mohadi said "a sinister motive" was suspected. "The modus operandi of the group ... indicates that the group was on a military mission on the African continent," he said.

Zimbabwean authorities said the owners of the U.S.-registered plane had falsely declared its cargo of what they said was "military equipment."

Items displayed for reporters included camouflage uniforms, an inflatable dinghy, portable radios and tools such as bolt cutters, but there was no indication the aircraft carried any weapons.

Zimbabwe's government said Tuesday it had put its army on full alert after seizing the plane.

Authorizes also said they had arrested a former member of Britain's elite Special Air Services (SAS) and two other men who were at Harare's airport on Sunday to meet the plane, according to Reuters.

Mudenge also said he was in contact with counterparts in Equatorial Guinea.

Officials there described the 15 men as an "advance party" for a coup attempt by those seized in Harare.

In a speech reported by state media, Equatorial Guinea's President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo thanked South Africa and Angola for warning him of the plot.

He added that other nations wanted to usurp him with an exiled politician living in Spain. (Full story)

The Harare plane's operator, based in Britain's Channel Islands, said the aircraft, sold by Kansas-based firm Dodson Aviation 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, told Reuters: "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 DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo)," Mudenge said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. Embassy in Harare was looking into the matter, though there was no indication Americans were among those held.

The United States has been very critical of the government of Zimbabwe and especially President Robert Mugabe.

Washington has accused the Zimbabwe government of waging "a concerted campaign of violence, repression and intimidation, showing its disregard for human rights, the rule of law and the welfare of its citizens."

Earlier this month, the U.S. imposed new targeted sanctions on several companies owned by members of the Zimbabwe government.

Mugabe has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 but has drawn sharp criticism over many of his policies, including what many claim are human rights abuses targeting the opposition. (Full story)

CNN Johannesburg Bureau Chief Charlayne Hunter-Gault contributed to this report.

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