Congolese in Kabila coup plot plead not guilty in S.Africa
Twenty Congolese nationals who went on trial in South Africa on Tuesday pleaded not guilty to charges of plotting to assassinate Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Joseph Kabila and topple his government.
A Pretoria court formally indicted the men with mercenary activities and conspiracy to murder, 18 months after their arrest in South Africa.
State prosecutor Shaun Abrahams listed the firearms and ammunition which he said the accused collected for a training camp in the north of South Africa. He said they had planned to target high-profile Congolese officials including President Kabila and his interior minister.
After hearing the charges against them, the men stood up one by one and entered pleas of not guilty.
“My client said that he has never recruited or trained anybody to commit a crime. He didn’t even know all the accused,” said Portia Phahlani, defence lawyer for the group’s alleged leader Etienne Kabila, who claims to be Kabila’s brother.
The trial got underway a day late after the accused applied Monday to have their charges overturned. The judge dismissed the application.
The court will hear new objections to the charges in the next few days, after which prosecutors will start calling witnesses, including undercover policemen whose work led to their arrest.
Officers arrested the suspects on February 5 last year, six months after an agent infiltrated their group.
He filmed several meetings and exchanged emails in the alleged preparation of the coup.
If convicted, the suspects face several years in prison.
The DRC, which is almost as big as western Europe, has been shattered by decades of strife, particularly in its mineral-rich east.
Kabila took power in 2001 at the height of a devastating conflict that became known as “Africa’s Great War”.
International envoys have expressed concern he could run for a third term in office, flouting constitutional term-limits.