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Eq. Guinea leader says too soon to free S.Africans Print

Reuters - 12 Oct 2006

DAKAR, Oct 12 (Reuters) - Equatorial Guinea's president says it is too soon to pardon foreign mercenaries jailed for trying to overthrow him, and he believes their South African leader Nick du Toit should stay inside for at least 20 years.

In an interview with Jeune Afrique magazine, President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo said it was too early to talk of a blanket pardon for the remaining prisoners among a group of 11 foreigners sentenced by Equatorial Guinea to between 14 and 34 years in jail for their part in the plot.

"It is still much too soon for that. These people must serve a good part of their sentence before I think about it. Their leader, Nick du Toit in particular. That one, he's still got 20 years, minimum," the magazine quoted Obiang as saying.

Dozens of men, mostly holders of South African passports, were imprisoned in the oil-producing Gulf of Guinea state and in Zimbabwe over a foiled attempt to topple Obiang in early 2004.

Obiang has granted pardons to several members of the group, most recently to South African Marius Boonzaaier in June on the grounds of ill health.

Obiang denied reports of poor conditions at the Black Beach prison in Equatorial Guinea's island capital Malabo where the remaining mercenaries are being held.

"Today this prison resembles a five-star hotel. Everything has been redone, the cells, the paintwork, the yards, to enable rehabilitation. The prisoners are happy, including the mercenaries," he said.

The plot was exposed in March 2004 when a plane carrying mercenaries was seized in Zimbabwe and the group in Equatorial Guinea were captured.

Mark Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, later pleaded guilty to funding part of the scheme in a deal with South African prosecutors to avoid jail.

Obiang has been repeatedly criticised by foreign governments including the U.S. State Department over human rights abuses under his rule. He has demanded former colonial power Spain extradite exiled Equatorial Guinean opposition leader Severo Moto for his alleged role in the coup plot.

He acknowledged to Jeune Afrique he thought it unlikely Spain would hand Moto over. 

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