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Observers of British Mercenary's Trial in Equatorial Guinea Worry About Process

At his trial in Malabo, British mercenary Simon Mann has been accusing countries and other individuals of involvement in a failed coup attempt in Equatorial Guinea. But observers say the allegations are nothing new and they are more worried about the judicial process in the small oil-rich country. VOA's Nico Colombant has more from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Journalist Bernardino Biyoa who was in the courtroom this week says in addition to blaming the governments of Spain, South Africa, the United States and Nigeria, as well as Mark Thatcher, the son of a former British prime minister, for being behind the coup plot, Mann also implicated more officials from Equatorial Guinea.

But Biyoa says Mann did not give specific details, or name anyone, just saying he had heard there were other officials from the government who were involved.

Mann was arrested in Zimbabwe in 2004, allegedly as he was trying to fly in weapons for the coup plot. After serving time in Zimbabwe, he was extradited to Equatorial Guinea earlier this year.

The prosecutor in Malabo said he is seeking a sentence of 30 years in jail for the British mercenary. Observers have said Mann may be trying to reduce that sentence by implicating others, including Thatcher, and a Lebanese-British businessman he alleges were financial backers.

Equatorial Guinea's government has issued an international arrest warrant for Thatcher.

London-based Africa analyst with Chatham House Alex Vines says Thatcher has been very successful in avoiding jail over his involvement.

"The last I heard he has been in the south of Spain and may be considering living in Gibraltar," said Vines. "The discussions of Mark Thatcher are nothing new. He was able to leave South Africa under a plea bargain arrangement when he said he had unknowingly provided some financial support for the equipment that was then to be used in this coup attempt. The other person that is named is a Lebanese-British individual, Elie Khalil. Again there have been plenty of allegations against Mr. Khalil. He has vehemently denied them."

Many human rights activists are showing little concern for Mann, Thatcher and Khalil. They are alleged to have been behind the plot to secure future oil revenue.

A human rights activist and opposition leader in Equatorial Guinea, Placido Mico, says he believes the plot against long-time authoritarian President Teodoro Obiang Nguema was real, but he says the government is making itself a victim to justify more of a crackdown against the opposition.

Also important to note, he says, is the dismal disrespect of even basic judicial rules in Equatorial Guinea.

Muluka-Anne Miti who works on the Equatorial Guinea desk of Amnesty International was concerned about six Equatorial Guineans who also went on trial this week.

"Amnesty International is concerned that they were not given enough time to prepare their defense," said Miti. "They were only informed on Thursday afternoon that the trial would be heard on Tuesday. With regard to the Equatorial Guineans, they only saw their lawyers for the first time on the Friday afternoon before the trial. Amnesty International was also informed they were reportedly tortured while in custody. At least three of the Equatorial Guineans were tortured while in custody."

Miti said Amnesty International does not have anyone at the trial. One journalist in Equatorial Guinea also complained authorities had only invited certain journalists, and said he was not allowed inside the courtroom.