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Mercenaries captured in Equatorial Guinea coup bid
Posted: Thursday, March 11, 2004

By Michael Padera,

THE 67 suspected mercenaries arrested in Harare on Sunday were on their way to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, to remove the government of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, the Minister of Home Affairs, Cde Kembo Mohadi revealed yesterday.

The leader of the group, Simon Mann, had allegedly been promised cash payment of one million British pounds and oil mining rights in the Malabo Islands. Equatorial Guinea is rich in oil.

The country's exiled rebel leader Severo Moto who is currently resident in Spain, Madrid, hired them to do the job.

Cde Mohadi said this during a media briefing yesterday evening.

He said the group, which landed in Harare on Sunday, wanted to collect arms and ammunition from the Zimbabwe Defence Industries.

"From Zimbabwe the plane was expected to fly straight to Malabo, the capital of Equatorial Guinea, landing in Malabo in the early hours of Monday the 8th of March. On landing the group was expected to be joined by co-conspirators already in Malabo to stage a coup to remove President Obiang from power," he said.

After the mission, the mercenaries were to fly to the DRC where the arms and ammunition bought from Zimbabwe were to be handed over to Katangese rebels.

Mann and Nicholas du Toit were assisted by another man only identified as Bonds in planning the coup.

"As part of his assignment Bonds spent December 2003 and January 2004 in Malabo carrying out reconnaissance. It was Bonds who was expected to give the signal for the planned coup," said Cde Mohadi.

He said in the event of stiff resistance from forces loyal to President Obiang, the mercenaries were to fly to a safe haven in Sao Tome and Principe.

Cde Mohadi said Mann had revealed that the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), America's Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Spanish Secret Service aided the group.

The secret services persuaded the Equatorial Guinea service chiefs, that is the head of police and commander of the army, not to put up any resistance.

They were promised cabinet posts in Moto's government.

The agencies were responsible for the hiring of the Boeing 727-100 from Dodson Aviation and they also provided satellite communication system to link up Moto in Spain, Mann and du Toit in South Africa and Bonds in Malabo.

United States forces are reportedly carrying out military exercises around Equatorial Guinea.

Cde Mohadi said investigations showed that the plane flew from Sao Tome and Principe on March 7, 2004 through South Africa where it was handed over to the crew.

"Investigations are continuing and more information will be released as it comes to hand," he said.

In Malabo, national radio quoted President Obiang as confirming that the 15 suspected mercenaries arrested in Equatorial Guinea were linked to the plane load of alleged soldiers of fortune detained in Zimbabwe.

"A group of mercenaries entered the country and was studying plans to carry out a coup d'etat in Equatorial Guinea," said Obiang.

They were found to be in possession of maps of the capital, Malabo, and satellite telephones, Obiang said, adding they were linked to the plane load of suspected mercenaries who have been detained since the weekend in Zimbabwe.

Although Harare maintains that those on board the impounded plane were mercenaries and threw them in prison, a British company which said it was operating the flight claimed those on board were on their way to work in the mines in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

"We spoke with the South African president who warned us that a group of mercenaries was heading towards Equatorial Guinea ... Angola also sent messages to tell us to be vigilant. That's what I expect of friendly countries," said Obiang.

Obiang said the suspected putschists "were funded by enemy powers, by multi-national companies and also by countries that do not like us," but did not name names.

Equatorial Guninea official radio said Wednesday that the 15 were led by a 48-year-old South African national, Nick du Toit, who was a "trafficker of arms and diamonds".

It added that the others were from Armenia, Angola, Sao Tome and South Africa, and that there was also one German national in the group.

All of them were wanted in their countries, the radio said, adding du Toit had been in Malabo since July 2003 while the others had arrived in waves posing as businessmen.

The radio did not give any more names, but Obiang pointed the finger at opposition activist Severo Moto, who is in exile in Spain, and who tried to mount a coup against Obiang in 1997 from Angola.

Moto, who recently set up a government in exile for the tiny, oil-rich Gulf of Guinea country, was sentenced in absentia by a court in Malabo to 100 years in jail for his role in the 1997 coup bid, and his Party for Progress in Equatorial Guinea was banned.

Moto yesterday denied that he had anything to do with the alleged coup bid, saying in a statement that he "has at no time left Spain." additional reporting by Reuters and AFP.

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