Zimbabwe is set to free more than 60 suspected
mercenaries linked to a coup plot in Equatorial Guinea
last year.

They may be sent back to South Africa as early as
Thursday, although their lawyer thought this unlikely.

A court reduced the jail terms imposed for breaking
Zimbabwe immigration laws, so they have now served
their time.

The alleged ring-leader, Briton Simon Mann and the two
pilots of the plane will not be released, as they were
given longer sentences.

The Zimbabwe authorities said the group was en route
to Equatorial Guinea last March to overthrow President
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo in the oil-rich country.

But they were found guilty of lesser charges of
illegally landing a plane at Harare airport.


Ronnie Mamoepa, from South Africa's foreign ministry,
said he expected the men - most of whom carry South
African passports - to arrive in Johannesburg on
Thursday afternoon.

But their lawyer Alwyn Griebenow said paperwork and
plane tickets still had to be arranged, so he doubted
they would arrive on Thursday.

Correspondents say the men could face rearrest on
their arrival in South Africa.

In 1998, the country passed a law forbidding its
citizens from engaging in military activities beyond
its borders without official permission.

On Wednesday, the 12-month sentences the men had been
given were reduced by four month on appeal.

Mr Mann's seven-year sentence for trying to buy
weapons has also been reduced from seven years to four
years and the pilots' 16-month jail terms have been
cut to 12 months.

In Equatorial Guinea, 14 other people have been found
guilty of charges linked to the coup plot, including
plot leader Nick du Toit who received 34 years.

Sir Mark Thatcher, the son of the former British prime
minister, appeared in court in South Africa last month
to answer questions over his role in an alleged coup
plot in Equatorial Guinea in West Africa.

He was given a suspended jail term and fined after
agreeing a plea bargain to help investigators.

The conduct of the trials in Zimbabwe and Equatorial
Guinea were criticised in the West, amid allegations
of torture and forced confessions.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2005/03/03 11:18:25 GMT