Fri, Jul 25, 2003 - Page 6 News List

President of Sao Tome signs deal with coup leaders

REUTERS , SAO TOME

The president of Sao Tome and Principe said he would try to save the reputation of the tiny West African islands after signing a deal with coup leaders that ended a week-long military takeover.

"After the signature of the memorandum, I will try to implement things. I will do what must be done. We must work to rehabilitate the image of the country," President Fradique de Menezes said late on Wednesday after his first encounter with the junta.

De Menezes, who was in Nigeria at the time of the July 16 putsch, jetted back to the twin island state after mediators announced coup leaders had agreed to restore democratic rule in Sao Tome, which is hoping to join Africa's club of oil exporters by around 2007.

Soldiers seized the former Portuguese colony in a bloodless coup last week, demanding a new government to combat poverty on the volcanic islands of 170,000 people where the average salary is less than US$1 a day.

The junta retreated from initial demands for new elections, but won commitments for greater transparency in oil dealings and a sweeping amnesty for all soldiers involved.

The reinstated president, accompanied by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo for his homecoming, received a dozen coup leaders and a large mission of international mediators at the sprawling pink presidential palace on Wednesday night.

After the hour-long meeting at a long wooden table draped in lace, Obasanjo declared the quick end of the crisis, a victory for all Africans and an example for solving future conflicts.

"I believe we have put this behind us. It is a victory. If not for the president or the military, it is a victory for the people of Sao Tome and Principe, for the region and for Africa," he said.

De Menezes said he would make a formal statement later yesterday.

Coup leader Major Fernando Pereira read aloud the accord, which reinstated the president, before heading to the presidential palace. The parties agree to "analyze" the possibility of a new government.

"The memorandum is a passport for Sao Tome to gain access to the civilized world, to education, to science and technology and economic development," Pereira said.

"We couldn't cross our arms and leave the destiny of an entire nation in corrupt hands," he added.

The coup sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity by African and US mediators, anxious to reverse the takeover on islands that lie in an oil-producing region of increasing strategic importance to the US.

Washington believes West African crude, including Sao Tome's potentially big reserves, could help reduce its dependence on Middle Eastern supplies.

The accord calls for the creation of an oil law and greater oversight in oil deals as well as the creation of a "guarantee committee," including many members of the international community, to ensure that commitments are met.

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