Sat, Jul 19, 2003 - Page 6 News List

Sao Tome coup leader will not rule

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE After mediations, Major Fernando Pereira says he wants to set up a provisional government and create conditions for free elections


With a host of influential foreign leaders lined up against him, the leader of a military coup in this tiny West African nation gave assurances that he has no plans to rule the oil-rich country.

International pressure mounted on Major Fernando Pereira to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the crisis with the elected officials he ousted in a coup on Wednesday.

Pereira, a 46-year-old artillery officer, said Thursday that he intended to allow elections.

"We achieved our objective by taking over," he told Portuguese state radio Radiodifusao Portuguesa. "Now we have to set up a provisional government and ... create the conditions for free elections. We don't want power," he said.

Diplomats from the US and Portugal, the country's former colonial ruler, sought to mediate between the rebellious troops and the deposed government.

Sao Tome lies in the Gulf of Guinea, in West Africa, a region of growing importance to the US and other nations as a source for oil.

The tiny island nation, with a population of about 140,000, has sought help from the US in recent years for offshore oil exploration.

President Fradique de Menezes was in Nigeria with President Olusegun Obasanjo when the coup occurred. The rebellious troops detained members of the government, who were still being held at an army barracks Thursday.

Nigeria -- which has a deal to share huge offshore oil reserves with Sao Tome -- was due to send an envoy Thursday to meet with the rebellious troops but by nightfall the envoy had not arrived and the airport was closed.

Remi Oyo, spokeswoman to Obasanjo, declined to comment on whether a Nigerian delegation would be heading to Sao Tome, saying only that "something is being worked out."

South African President Thabo Mbeki said diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis must be maintained.

"I'm hoping that we can, all of us, apply enough pressure on these soldiers to make sure that we reverse this and re-establish the democratically elected government of Sao Tome," Mbeki said.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan strongly condemned the coup while Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano, who currently heads the 53-nation African Union, appealed for a peaceful solution.

Chissano was expected to hold talks Thursday in Abuja, Nigeria, with Menezes and Obasanjo about the possibility of sending a team of diplomats to Sao Tome.

The Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries, or CPLP, said it was willing to send representatives to join a mission trying to find a solution to the crisis, Brazil's Foreign Ministry said Thursday.

The CPLP condemned the coup and demanded an immediate return to a normal functioning of democratic institutions. Sao Tome is a member of the CPLP, which had a meeting of foreign ministers in Coimbra, Portugal, on Thursday and yesterday. Other CPLP members are Brazil, Portugal, Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau.

In Sao Tome, troops could be seen deploying artillery around the closed airport, apparently in fear of military intervention from abroad.

Sao Tome is one of Africa's smallest and poorest countries, with average income of about US$24 per month, according to the World Bank.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund three years ago granted Sao Tome US$200 million in debt relief.

Calisto Madavo, the World Bank vice president for Africa, indicated on Thursday that the aid would be halted unless the international community recognizes the new government.

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