Congo Deports Nearly 3 Dozen Foreigners

The Associated Press
Monday, May 29, 2006; 3:00 PM

KINSHASA, Congo -- Congo said Monday it is deporting nearly three dozen foreigners it charged with planning a coup before national elections, saying it would have taken too long to prosecute them.

"All 32 mercenaries have been expelled from the country to face justice in their respective countries," Information Minister Henri Mova Sakanyi said.

Congo officials had said the men were security guards who were found with weapons and were planning to overthrow the government. The group, arrested about a week ago, consisted of three Americans, 10 Nigerians and 19 South Africans, according to Congo authorities.

The Americans' employer, Orlando-based AQMI Strategy Corp., said they were providing security and campaign consulting for a candidate in the Congo's upcoming elections _ a landmark vote set for July 30 as the restive country tries to recover from years of war.

Sakanyi said the government continues to believe the men were plotting a takeover, but it released them rather than get tied down in a lengthy court case.

"We are approaching the elections," Sakanyi said. "It would have taken a lot of time to process their cases."

A U.N. spokesman in Kinshasa has said the organization believes the arrests were an attempt at political manipulation before the elections. Nearly 18,000 U.N. peacekeepers are in Congo to help maintain order as the vote approaches.

Sakanyi said the Americans left Saturday, the South Africans on Sunday and the Nigerians were leaving Monday. He said they were being flown to their home countries, but did not know if they would be taken into custody on arrival.

"We have spoken with their respective ambassadors and we have said that these people are delinquents and should face proper justice," Sakanyi said.

AQMI said Sunday that no charges were brought against its employees and said it was meeting them with a company jet. AQMI President Frank Amodeo said the allegations "were so completely unwarranted as to be ridiculous."

The company has said that its workers were not carrying any weapons in Congo.

© 2006 The Associated Press