coup trial to kick off

MALABO - A British mercenary accused of masterminding a failed coup in Equatorial Guinea in 2004 will go on trial this week , the country's prosecutor general said last week.

MALABO - A British mercenary accused of masterminding a failed coup in Equatorial Guinea in 2004 will go on trial this week , the country's prosecutor general said last week.

Simon Mann, 55, was arrested with 61 others when their plane landed in Harare in 2004, accused of stopping off in the Zimbabwean capital for weapons while en route to Malabo to oust the leadership of Equatorial Guinea.

Mann, a former officer of Britain's Special Air Service Regiment, was deported to Equatorial Guinea on January 31 from Zimbabwe.

"Everything is in place and the trial of Simon Mann should last three days, from June 17 to 19," the prosecutor, Jose Olo Obono, said.

"He will be defended by his local lawyer," Olo Obono said, adding that foreign lawyers are not allowed to plead in Equatorial Guinea.

Mann's lawyer said last month that he was being held illegally and denied access to his lawyer since being charged in February.

Last month Equatorial Guinea also issued an arrest warrant for Mark Thatcher, son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, accusing him of being the coup's instigator.

Thatcher pleaded guilty in 2005 to breaking South Africa's anti-mercenary laws, where he lived at the time, but escaped prison with a suspended four-year sentence and a R3 million fine.

South African Nick du Toit has already been sentenced to 34 years in prison in Equatorial Guinea for his part in leading the coup team.

Mann has already admitted his role in the coup in a British TV interview in March, although he denied he was the mastermind.

"I was involved and I was the manager... not the main man," he told Channel Four news from his Malabo jail.

Mann claimed that while money was a motivating factor in his actions, the "primary motivation was to help the people of Equatorial Guinea, who were in a lot of trouble." - Sapa-AFP

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