Sun, Nov 28, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Obiang regime jails coup plotters

EQUATORIAL GUINEA Two ringleaders were, however, spared the death sentence while in South Africa Mark Thatcher's case took a serious turn for the worse

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The Obiang regime in Equatorial Guinea Friday jailed 11 foreign mercenaries for up to 34 years, as documents surfaced further implicating Mark Thatcher, the son of former British prime minster Margaret Thatcher, in a British-led coup attempt which has caused international embarrassment.

A long memo from the mercenary Simon Mann, said to be at the heart of the plot, has been seized by authorities in South Africa. A court there ruled this week that Mark Thatcher will face trial in April.

The memo, written before the coup attempt, refers to "MT", identified to the South African prosecutors as Mark Thatcher by a key witness.

The document taken from the plotters' computer says Thatcher's role must be kept secret, or the coup would be at risk: "If involvement becomes known, rest of us, and project, likely to be screwed as a side-issue to people screwing him."

Mann goes on to say that even if mercenaries succeeded in taking over the oil-rich state, news of Thatcher's role "would particularly add to a campaign post-event, to remove us". He then emphasizes: "Ensure doesn't happen."

These disclosures follow the leak of phone records revealing Thatcher was also in contact with another of the alleged British plotters, businessman Greg Wales, at a crucial moment before the coup bid.

Thatcher is facing a further five months on bail, reporting daily to police from his suburban Cape Town villa.

Thatcher, who claims he thought he was financing a helicopter for an air ambulance, gave an interview to Vanity Fair saying: "I feel like a corpse that's going down the Colorado river and there's nothing I can do about it."

The Simon Mann memo now seen by the Guardian does not implicate the British in the coup. Instead, in what seems to be a detailed plan for a takeover, the ex-British special forces officer seems preoccupied with getting US backing, to prevent his mercenaries being chased out of Africa once their role is discovered.

"We must follow plan to ensure that neither US government nor oil companies feel that their interests are threatened."

He says the US oil firms, who dominate Equatorial Guinea "must be made to believe very fast that the thing is in their interest; their staff safe; and that we are very powerful."

In Equatorial Guinea yesterday, President Obiang's regime drew back from imposing death sentences. Nick du Toit, the South African arms dealer who this month retracted a confession alleging torture, drew a 34-year jail sentence.

Four other South Africans whom prosecutors said were mercenaries received 17 years each in prison. Three others were acquitted.

Six Armenian air crew received jail terms of between 14 and 24 years each.

Would-be president Severo Moto was sentenced in absentia to 63 years. Eight other opposition exiles were similarly sentenced to 52 years each.

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