Extract form the Sunday Times 31 October 1999
A Mercenary Confesses
I saw Dr Death inject five men before they were thrown alive from plane. MICHAEL SCHMIDT reports on five murders that have escaped the attention of the courts. A former soldier of fortune has made a taped confession in which he claims he saw Wouter Basson 'doctor' five guerrillas on a plane in 1979 before they were thrown out over Mozambique. Retired French Foreign Legionnaire Charles 'Chris' Timothy Pessarra claimed from his home in Texas this week that Basson, who he says was wearing a mask, injected two of the guerrillas with an unknown substance. He says the five men had been disguised in the camouflage uniforms of the Rhodesian Selous Scouts and were poisoned so they would spread 'contamination' among the guerrilla force that recovered them
A FORMER French Foreign Legionnaire this week claimed he saw South African chemical warfare expert Dr Wouter Basson inject five unconscious guerrillas with a solution on board a "death plane" from which they were then thrown out over Mozambique
Retired mercenary Charles "Chris" Timothy Pessarra, 50, who also served in the Rhodesian and South African armies, told a chilling tale of a top-secret flight aboard a Rhodesian Air Force Dakota at the tail-end of the Rhodesian bush war.
Pessarra's testimony about the alleged flight in May 1979, which has never been previously revealed and which is not known to Basson's prosecutors, was sent to the Sunday Times from a town in rural Texas, recorded on two micro-cassette tapes. He added some details later in a phone conversation.
Pessarra describes a memorable night at the airfield at Buffalo Range, near Chiredzi in the south of Rhodesia, 20km from the Mozambican border - nicknamed the Russian Front - where he was an airborne-assault paratroop instructor.
The tape begins with Pessarra's description of the night in May 1979 when a Dakota aircraft was due to fly across the border into Mozambique at 9pm.
The pilot of the Dakota, a civilian Air Rhodesia pilot who flew reserve for the air force, begged him to come on the flight because he was worried about the unusual levels of secrecy involved.
At 2pm that day, Pessarra says, he argued at length with a Rhodesian major , and a former Foreign Legionnaire serving with the Selous Scouts. The Scouts wanted five parachutes, but Pessarra said he had not received any orders to that effect from air force headquarters.
Pessarra says that he examined the Dakota, and that its interior windows had been blacked out and the pilot's cabin sealed off with canvas.
But he was able to see what was being loaded: "Five . . . semi-conscious [Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army] terrorists into the back of the Dak.
"I recognized several different people from the Recce people, and also recognized an American intelligence officer and two of the gentlemen who I'd seen once before with the Recce people, the South African Recce [reconnaissance unit]."
He says Basson "drove up in the Land Rover . . . he was there for at least a few hours". Basson "did not have a beard; hell of a bit more hair. He looked like a German hunter out on safari."
Pessarra sneaked onto the aircraft through the navigator's door. "I was able to look through the side window, saw them load the bodies. They were still conscious.
"Basson got out of the door . . . on the right-hand side of the Land Rover, walked around the side, climbed up the steps. He had his case with him. He bent over them inside the door, on the back part of the aircraft between the last seats and the doors."
Peeping through a hole in the canvas screen, Pessarra saw "the terrs [terrorists], they were semi-unconscious, some of them were obviously, I could see, alive".
"I only saw him [Basson] inject two of them with some type of solution [directly into their stomachs]. They did some scrapings, everything. The rubber gloves were put on.
"Basson had a mask on . . . he put the mask on once he was inside the door, took it off once he was outside. This all took about 25 minutes."
Five members of the Recces had helped Basson, he says.
"We took off . . . They made the drop. We returned to the airfield . . . They dropped the terrs out on the parachutes . . . A powdered substance was sprinkled on the bodies just before they were ejected from the aircraft once we were over Mozambique airspace."
Pessarra says he believes the mission was an intelligence "double-bluff": the unconscious guerrillas had been disguised in the camouflage uniforms of the Selous Scouts, complete with firearms and false papers. He adds that the ex-Legionnaire had said the guerrillas were alive, but had been "doctored" - poisoned. Pessarra assumed the intention was to drop them over Mozambique where their bodies would spread "contamination" among whichever guerrilla force recovered them.
He says Basson met the flight on its return to the airfield.
"Later . . . in '97, when I saw Basson's photograph in the paper, I recognized who he was," he says.
In 1997, Basson was arrested for dealing in the drug ecstasy. Pessarra says he knew it was Basson because "I never forget a face . . . I'm not mistaken."
Basson's trial, which will be one of the biggest in South Africa, resumed this week after adjourning three weeks ago when the defense successfully argued that the court drop six charges.
One charge related to an allegation that Basson supplied drugs which were used to dope about 200 Swapo guerrillas, who were then taken up in a light aircraft and thrown to their deaths over the sea.
The Namibian government has never reversed a blanket amnesty granted in 1989 to all former SA Defense Force soldiers like Basson. But there is no such amnesty relating to atrocities, such as the one Pessarra alleges, committed by the SADF in then-Rhodesia or in Mozambique.
Court documents describe at least 24 death flights between July 9 1979 and December 12 1987, in which the drugged bodies of guerrillas were thrown out of aircraft, usually into the Atlantic or Indian oceans, about 100 nautical miles off the coast. Some were strangled, some killed with hammers, and others suffocated with drugs. The state alleges Basson supplied the drugs on at least 25 occasions.
At the time of the alleged death flight that Pessarra witnessed, Bishop Abel Muzorewa had been elected as the head of the new Rhodesia-Zimbabwe, but the guerrilla war had increased in intensity - and South African Reconnaissance commandos, or Recces, were heavily involved in the conflict along the Russian Front.
Pessarra said the top-secret death flight had been under the control of the Selous Scouts.
Dr Torie Pretorius, who compiled the murder and drug charges against Basson, said he would be calling "several witnesses from Rhodesia who will give oral evidence that they met with Basson in Rhodesia".
Pretorius said he did not know Pessarra but was "interested" in his evidence for possible further prosecution.
Pessarra claims that he has broken his silence after 20 years because the security police, for whom he acted as an informant in the late '80s and early '90s after leaving the SA army, wanted "to destroy me after all I did [as a whistle-blower on dirty tricks], and to destroy my wife and children. So now, I simply want revenge."
Both Rhodesian and South African military veterans confirmed that Pessarra had been a member of the Rhodesian Light Infantry's support commando during the bush war and then became a parachute instructor at the Parachute Training School at New Sarum, outside Salisbury, now Harare.
A former colleague at 1 Parachute Battalion in Tempe, Lieutenant-Colonel Johnny Kieser, retired, said: "I know him very well. He qualified here as a static line instructor and he also did freefall."
Basson's lawyers did not respond to the allegations.
- Beaver Shaw
- Nairobi, Kenya
- I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011
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