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Exiled Equatorial Guinea Opposition Leader Arrested for Weapons Trafficking

  • Ricci Shryock

Less than a month before Equatorial Guinea's legislative elections, exiled opposition leader Severo Moto has been arrested in Spain on charges of trafficking arms to the oil-rich West African nation. Ricci Shryock interviewed Moto weeks before his arrest, as he shared his desires for the country.

Equatorial Guinea opposition leader Severo Moto was arrested late Monday near Madrid on charges of trafficking war weapons to Equatorial Guinea. The exiled politician has lived in Spain since 1982, where he heads the Party for Progress for Equatorial Guinea and attempts to thwart what he calls the dictatorial regime of current President, Teodoro Obiang Nguema.

Legislative elections are set for early May in the West African country. Moto says the elections will be unfair, because Mr. Obiang forbids opposition.

"The Progress Party cannot go to the elections, because it is forbidden in Equatorial Guinea now. It is impossible to organize the opposition," said Moto.

Equatorial Guinea sentenced Moto to 62 years in prison for his alleged role in a failed coup against Mr. Obiang in 2004.

The West African government says Mark Thatcher, the son of former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, helped fund the overthrow attempt on behalf of Moto. Thatcher pleaded guilty in South Africa in 2005 to violating anti-mercenary laws, saying he had unknowingly helped coup plotters.

Accused mastermind and British mercenary Simon Mann was arrested in Zimbabwe in 2004 for his supposed role in the plot, and then re-arrested after his release last year. He was extradited to Equatorial Guinea in February. Mann's lawyers say he is being held illegally in a jail in Equatorial Guinea.

Moto says this illegal detention is one example of how Mr. Obiang is an oppressive leader. "In Equatorial Guinea at this very moment, there are too many important situations. People admit there is killing between them, and the situation of Simon Mann in the jail, and too many people are now persecuted by Obiang," said Moto. "This is not the best way to go to the elections."

President Obiang has said he has kept his country stable and prosperous, while repeatedly defending his government from efforts to topple it from abroad.

Berlin-based Transparency International ranks Equatorial Guinea in the top 10 of the most corrupt states. Moto says Western governments interested in the country's oil reserves must intervene on behalf of the humanitarian rights of the country's citizens.

"There are three countries: Spain, France and America, because they're the main people who are interested in the economic situation of Equatorial Guinea. They have to open their hearts and see what's happening in Equatorial Guinea," he said.

Though Equatorial Guinea is sub-Saharan Africa's third largest oil producer, much of the country's population lives in poverty.

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