Malabo – The United Nations said on Thursday it will dispatch an envoy to Equatorial Guinea after authorities in the oil-rich country said they had thwarted a coup attempt against President Theodoro Obiang, Africa’s longest-serving leader.
The West African nation was put on alert on Wednesday after a senior government official announced that a putsch mounted by foreign mercenaries on December 24 had been put down.
Hours after Security Minister Mahamat Zen Cherif’s televised statement, state broadcaster TGVE reported clashes with “mercenaries” near the border with Cameroon.
Government troops shot dead one “mercenary” and “used gunfire to disperse (others) in the forests along the border”, it said, without specifying how many fighters were involved or how long the clashes lasted.
Chad’s Foreign Minister Mahamat Zen Cherif, in a visit to Malabo on Thursday, condemned the attempted coup as a “major threat” to central Africa.
“The attempt at destabilisation is not just an affair that only concerns Equatorial Guinea, it is also a major threat of destabilisation that concerns the entire sub-region of central Africa,” he said in remarks reported by TVGE.
Formerly a small Spanish colony, Equatorial Guinea has become one of sub-Sahara’s biggest oil producers but a large proportion of its 1.2 million population lives in poverty.
Obiang, 75, who seized power in 1979, has faced a string of coup attempts during nearly four decades in office.
Critics accuse him of brutal repression of opponents, electoral fraud and corruption.
Dozens of Chadians held
A UN spokesperson said that the organisation’s envoy for West Africa, Francois Louceny Fall, will travel to Malabo for talks next week.
The spokesperson said that while “little information” had emerged over last month’s alleged coup attempt, “we condemn all attempts to seize power unconstitutionally” in the country.
Cherif, who was cited by state media after he spoke with Obiang on Wednesday, called for an inquiry and said he would travel on to Cameroon for talks with leaders there.
According to Malabo’s security minister, the mercenaries were Chadian, Sudanese and Central African Republic nationals, as citizens of the Central African Republic are called, and were recruited by Equatorial Guinean militants from certain radical opposition parties with the support of certain powers.”
The attempted infiltration had been repelled with the help of the Cameroon security services, according to the authorities.
Sources told AFP that the country’s ambassador to Chad, Enrique Nsue Anguesom, who was on holiday in Equatorial Guinea’s Ebibeyin district, had been arrested and was being held in a military camp.
Cameroon says that on December 27 it arrested 38 heavily armed men on its border with Equatorial Guinea, which consists of mostly dense forest territory on the African mainland and an offshore island where the capital lies.
Cameroonian security sources on Thursday said those arrested included an ex-general in the Chadian army, Mahamat Kodo Bani, who was once a senior officer in the presidential guard.
He is being held in Yaounde, the Cameroonian capital, they said.
In Gabon, which also borders Equatorial Guinea, a senior government official said “security measures” had been taken on the border.
Chad’s ambassador to Malabo, Paul Nahari Nguaryanan, told AFP that more than 65 Chadian merchants had been detained in recent days, though a foreign ministry source said some had been released.
Facebook, Whatsapp and VPNs in Equatorial Guinea have been blocked. “There is a real lack of transparency on what’s really going on,” a diplomat in the region said.
Obiang took power in a coup on August 3, 1979, ousting his own uncle, Francisco Macias Nguema, who was shot by firing squad.
He was re-elected to a fifth seven-year term in 2016, gaining more than 90% of the vote according to the official results.
Legislative elections on November 12 last year saw the ruling party win 92% of the vote, a result condemned as fraudulent by dissidents.
The Citizens for Innovation (CI) opposition group on Wednesday strongly denied it had played any part in the attempted coup.