Zimbabwean authorities alleged on Tuesday that a cargo plane impounded in Harare on suspicion of carrying 64 mercenaries was hired by a South African mercenary organisation and British special forces, state television reported.
The television said investigations in Zimbabwe showed the plane, impounded late on Sunday at the main Harare international airport, was linked to a South African firm known as “Executive Outcomes” that in the past hired mostly former apartheid era South African soldiers for mercenary and security work across Africa.
The television quoted Zimbabwe Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi saying British SAS, or Special Air Service, forces were believed also to have been involved.
No comment was immediately available from Britain or South Africa on those charges.
State television said the plane was carrying 20 South African nationals and groups of Angolans, Congolese, Namibians and one Zimbabwean carrying a South African passport.
The crew of the ageing Boeing 727 claimed the plane was headed for the central African nations of the Congo and Burundi and was carrying mineral mining personnel.
Earlier, South Africa’s ambassador to Zimbabwe, Jerry Ndou, was attempting to verify the status of those on board the plane, the South African Foreign Affairs Ministry said.
“Should the allegations that those South Africans on board are involved in mercenary activities prove true, this would amount to a serious breach of the Foreign Military Assistance Act, which expressly prohibits the involvement of South Africans in military activities outside South Africa without the due authorisation of the National Conventional Arms Control Committee,” Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad said in a statement released late on Monday.
The small west African state of Equatorial Guinea, where rich oil deposits were recently discovered, has said it is investigating reports foreign mercenaries were being recruited earlier this year to overthrow the government.
Zimbabwe state television on Monday broadcast footage of a white plane with a blue stripe containing satellite telephones, radios, backpacks, sleeping bags, hiking boots, an inflatable raft, bolt cutters and what appeared to be a can of Mace. No weapons were shown.
The plane and its passengers, most of them whites, were taken to a nearby military airfield, the station said.
The plane’s registration number, N4610, is assigned to Dodson Aviation Inc of Ottawa, Kansas, in the United States. However, company director Robert Dodson said it had sold the aircraft about a week ago.
Zimbabwe state television reported on Tuesday investigators in Harare said the plane was a former US air force aircraft that had been bought by Dodson, whose company, the television claimed, had close ties with the US government.