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Fate of British 'mercenary' in hands of despots Print
By Peta Thornycroft, Zimbabwe correspondent - 09/05/2007

The fate of Simon Mann, the alleged British mercenary, lies in the hands of two of Africa's cruellest despots, as Zimbabwe prepares to decide if he should be extradited to Equatorial Guinea to face coup charges.

The old Etonian, currently in jail in Zimbabwe for trying to buy "weapons of war" from the state arms company, could be handed over to one of President Robert Mugabe's few remaining allies after a magistrates' hearing in Harare on Wednesday.
The 53-year-old is accused by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema's regime in Equatorial Guinea of plotting a coup against him in 2004. It was foiled. Mr Mugabe, who has bankrupted Zimbabwe and needs cheap fuel and friends, has been feted by the oil-rich Obiang regime after the arrest of Mann and a private army of 69 mercenaries at Harare International Airport.

If Zimbabwe's capricious courts, regularly more loyal to Mr Mugabe than the constitution, agree to the extradition request, Mann can appeal to the High Court, and if that fails, the Supreme Court - which can take years to hand down decisions in cases which Mr Mugabe deems sensitive.

If the extradition request is refused, however, and providing Equatorial Guinea doesn't appeal the decision to the High Court, Mann will be freed on Friday from the filthy Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison on the outskirts of Harare, where scores of inmates die every year from malnutrition and from where no one has ever escaped.

The former SAS officer would then be able to fly home to be reunited with his second wife Amanda and their four children on his estate, Inchmary in Hampshire. His youngest son was born after he was arrested in Harare.
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Oil is at the heart of the case. President Obiang has become rich from the United States' exploitation of Equatorial Guinea's oil, while its population of 500,000 is among the world's poorest. It was this oil, according to President Obiang, that attracted Mann and associates in London to plan the coup.

Mann, frail, thin, but in good spirits when he appeared in leg irons in a makeshift court at the prison last week, has undoubtedly suffered, but not badly in comparison with ordinary Zimbabwean prisoners. He receives regular visits from British diplomats and his lawyer routinely sends his driver to the prison with food.

During the hearing, Zimbabwe refused entry to officials from Amnesty International who would have testified to Equatorial Guinea's shocking human rights record.

Zimbabwe's filthy jails are luxurious compared to President Obiang's prison in Malabo, where inmates die like flies. Mr Mann told his legal team they should "consider me dead" if he is extradited.
 
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