Potential Hot Spots: March 12, 2004

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: Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea claim to have thwarted a plot plotting to overthrow Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang with the arrest of 79 suspected mercenaries (described as mostly 'heavily-built white men'). 

Zimbabwe accused US, British and Spanish spy agencies of plotting to topple Equatorial Guinea's government. Obiang, who seized power from his uncle in 1979, claimed that foreign countries and multinational companies were conspiring to replace him with opposition activist Severo Moto Nsa, an exiled politician living in Spain. Equatorial Guinea's Information Minister pointed out Lebanese businessman Eli Calil as the mercenary's financier.

Moto countered that over the last few weeks, Obiang has accused his own relations of two coup attempts and that recently sacked soldiers who had left the country were obviously seeking ways to overthrow Obiang. Equatorial Guinea's oil reserves were seen as the motivation behind the ill-fated mission. The suspected mercenaries could face the death penalty if found guilty.

On March 8, a 15 man 'advance group' was arrested in Equatorial Guinea, while 67 more were taken into Zimbabwean custody the day before at the Harare International Airport. Those suspected mercenaries comprise 20 South Africans, 18 Namibians, 23 Angolans, two Congolese (DRC) and one Zimbabwean with a South African passport. Zimbabwe had also arrested Simon Mann (allegedly a former member of Britain's Special Air Service) and two others who had been at Harare airport to meet the Boeing 727.

The Boeing 727-100's owners, Logo Logistics Ltd, are based in Britain's Channel Islands. They the group was in transit to the Congo for mine security and logistical work, but declined to name the customers. Charles Burrow, a senior executive of Logo Logistics, described the incident as a 'dreadful misunderstanding'. Some sources claim that Logo is related to the old South African Private Military Company (PMC) 'Executive Outcomes'.

Dodson Aviation Inc of Kansas (the plane's previous owners) said that they had sold the 1964-vintage aircraft to Logo Limited the week prior. The plane had traveled from the west African state of Sao Tome and Principe to South Africa, where it collected its passengers. It then landed in Harare to load additional fuel, for which the crew paid about $30,000 in cash. Zimbabwe authorities seized what they called ``military materials'': satellite telephones, radios, backpacks, hiking boots, bolt cutters and an inflatable raft. There were no reports of weapons on the plane.

While in Zimbabwe, the group were allegedly going to meet two co-conspirators and collect weapons purchased from the state arms manufacturer, before continuing to Equatorial Guinea.

If the coup d'etat was successful, the plane would then fly to the Congo where the arms and ammunition purchased from Zimbabwe would to be handed over to the Katangese rebels. Mann was allegedly hired by Moto in November and upon success, promised $1.8 million and oil mining rights in Equatorial Guinea. In case the government's resistance prevailed, nearby Sao Tome and Principe was identified as a safe haven.

There have been some theories floated that this is a case of Zimbabwe's right hand not talking to it's left. Any sales from Zimbabwe Defense Industries would have to be approved by Mugabe's totalitarian government and someone in Mugabe's power scheme probably benefited from the sale. However, Mugabe also had an opportunity to embarrass the west with this headline-grabbing arrest - whether anyone in the west was actually involved in the alleged plot or not. - Adam Geibel

 

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