US trio accused of spy mission

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THREE AMERICANS arrested at Harare airport are to be charged with illegal possession of arms, terrorism, espionage and acts of sabotage, authorities in Zimbabwe said yesterday.

Police said the men would appear in court today and that investigations were being carried out into their alleged mission to destabilise Zimbabwe and its northern ally, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Zimbabwe has more than 6,000 troops in Congo where they are helping President Laurent Kabila fight rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda.

The authorities have not formally named the men but they are though to be Gary George Blanchard, Jona Lamonte Dixon and Joseph Pettijohn.

The men, aged between 34 and 37, were arrested on Sunday night en route to Zurich. Police said an AK-47 assault rifle, seven revolvers, a Burger rifle, four Remington rifles, six telescopic sights, some binoculars, one AK-47 magazine, and ammunition for pistols and revolvers were found in their luggage.

The men were said to have entered Zimbabwe by road from Congo and left a truck laden with weapons and telephone handsets at Harare airport. They claimed they were visiting big game reserves.

The authorities are investigating what they say are links between the three men and the five Britons and an American expelled this week from Congo for alleged spying.

Police chief Augustine Chihuri said yesterday that the three would be charged with acts of terrorism, espionage or sabotage. He said they could also face an alternative charge of illegal possession of arms.

A US embassy statement said the men were in no way "connected or associated with the US government".