SA 'paid for mercenary release'

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VICTORIA (Reuter) - South Africa paid the Seychelles government dollars 3m (pounds 1.6m) to free mercenaries captured in an abortive 1981 coup, President Albert Rene told reporters yesterday. Mr Rene was the man the mercenaries aimed to overthrow, and his statement, made after victory in the Seychelles' first multi-party election, resolved one of the puzzles left by the affair.

Fifty armed men led by 'Mad' Mike Hoare, a veteran British mercenary, flew to the islands in November 1981, posing as rugby players. Detected at customs when an AK-47 rifle fell out of a suitcase, Hoare and all but six of his companions hijacked a plane and escaped back to South Africa. South Africa, no friend of Mr Rene's socialist government, denied sponsoring the coup and sentenced Hoare and other leaders to mild prison terms for hijacking.

The six mercenaries captured were freed in 1983 in what was officially described as an act of clemency by Mr Rene's government.