March 12, 2004

Link between plane and coup plot in Equatorial Guinea confirmed

As has been confirmed by South African Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma the plane held by Zimbabwean authorities and an alleged coup plot in Equatorial Guinea were linked. The suspects were arrested on Sunday night in Harare allegedly on their way to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to remove the government of President Obiang, who came into power in 1979. Zimbabwean authorities have detained a Boeing 727 carrying 20 South Africans, 18 Namibians, 23 Angolans, two Democratic Republic of Congo citizens and one Zimbabwean with a South African passport, Zimbabwean police spokesman, Wayne Bvudzijena, told.

In the meantime, an eight-man team from Equatorial Guinea arrived in Zimbabwe to exchange notes on the 67 suspected mercenaries and the Attorney General's Office continued with investigations and the framing of charges. The delegation led by Mr Jose Esono Micha visited South Africa where they held talks with Foreign Minister Cde Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

In Pretoria, the South African government said its nationals arrested in Zimbabwe and Equitorial Guinea will have to stand trial and serve any prison sentences in these countries. "We have no prisoner transfer agreement with any country," said foreign ministry spokesman Ronnie Mamoepa. "As with all South Africans arrested in foreign countries, they will have to face the laws of those countries should it turn out that they were mercenaries," he said. "We do however, offer consular services. But bringing them back would be out of the question." South Africa passed a law in 1998, which specifically forbids any mercenary activity and which carries heavy penalties.

Equatorial Guinea is Africa's third largest oil producer behind Nigeria and Angola. The discovery of massive oil reserves has boosted Equatorial Guinea's economy by as much as 70 percent a year, but critics say the newfound wealth has not been evenly distributed. US giant Exxon Mobil Corp is the biggest oil producer in Equatorial Guinea. Other companies operating there include independent oil company Amerada Hess Corp, US Chevron Texaco Corp, Noble Energy Inc, Devon Energy Corp, Houston-based Marathon Oil Corp, South Africa's Engen Africa, Sasol and Nigeria's atlas Petroleum. (The Herald, Harare)

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